Massive Book Explores the Vibrant History of How We Catalog Color

Color Charts by Anne Varichon

Color chart of silk velvet ribbons, G.G. & Cie, France, leporello, 24 x 13 cm, 31 panels, late nineteenth century, Bibliothèque Forney, Paris (Credit: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris)
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, My Modern Met may earn an affiliate commission. Please read our disclosure for more info.

We all know how important color is to our world. And a new book pays homage to the different ways that it can be arranged, presented, and preserved. Color Charts is an incredible journey through the different devices that have been developed since the 15th century to help us organize and catalog color. Color theory enthusiasts will marvel at the opportunity to view nearly 200 diverse color charts, many of which were previously unpublished.

Author Anne Varichon, who is a cultural materials anthropologist, has pulled together everything from 19th-century silk ribbon swatches to a collection of linoleum colors from the 1960s. She even references favorites like Werner's Nomenclature of Colours, which shows color blends for different tints and hues that also occur in nature.

“For centuries, people have preserved documents containing color samples, creating a treasure trove for future generations of researchers,” she writes in the book's introduction. “This book is a tribute to them, and to those who, by studying and publishing color charts, began to trace the rich history of these documents.”

Throughout the book, Varichon's text accompanies the charts and explores the way in which painters, naturalists, doctors, and industrial designers have used them throughout history. She also explores the historical context for these color charts, including the explosion of vibrant color charts in the post-World War II era, when sewing became a hobby more than a necessity.

A necessity for any color lover, you can order the book, which was published by Princeton University Press, online from Bookshop.

A new book from the Princeton University Press explores the vibrant history of color charts.

Color Charts by Anne Varichon

Astrolin Color Card, Établissement Georget Fils Peintures Laquées et Vernis, Chantenay-Lès-Nantes, c. 1906, pamphlet, 16 x 9.5 cm, 2 folds, Bibliothèque Forney, Paris (Credit: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris)

Color Charts by Anne Varichon

Linoleum Collection 1966-1967, Sarlino, Reims, France, 1966, binder, 36 × 30 cm, 14 pages, Bibliothèque Forney, Paris (Credit: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris)

Color Charts by Anne Varichon

The Chemistry of Dyers, New Theoretical and Practical Treatise on the Art of Dyeing and Printing Fabrics, Oscar Piéquet, Paris, 1892, Bernard Guineau collection, Ôkhra-Ecomuseum of Ocher, Roussillon (Credit: Ôkhra-Ecomuseum of Ocher, Roussillon)

Nearly 200 colors charts shows how tints and hues have been cataloged and organized for all sorts of industries.

Color Charts by Anne Varichon

Acid Dyes for Felt Pile, Base Colors, Société Anonyme des Matières Colorantes et Produits Chimiques de Saint-Denis, Saint-Denis, November 1930, leporella, 22 x 15 cm, 7 panels, Albi Couleurs, Association Mémoire, des Industries de la Couleur, Albi (Credit: Anne Varichon collection, Sète)

Color Charts by Anne Varichon

Art of Dyeing Wools in Fleece, Yarn, and Fabrics, M. D. Gonfreville, Librairie Scientifique, Industrielle et Agricole Lacroix et Baudry, Paris, 1848, 873 pages, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (Credit: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris)

Anthropologist Anne Varichon explains the history and cultural context of these colorful materials in Color Charts.

Color Charts Book Cover

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by the Princeton University Press.

Related Articles:

Color Theory Guidebook From 1902 Gets a Modern Upgrade

Unexpected Discovery Reveals a Rare 18th Century Coloring Book for Adults

19th Century Color Guide Is Transformed Into an Online Resource for Designers

Exquisite ‘Nature’s Palette’ Book is a Modern Revival of 19th Century Color Theory

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content