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

Nature's Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World Color Book

“Nature's Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World” by Patrick Baty with contributions Elaine Charwat, Peter Davidson, André Karliczek, and Giulia Simonini. (Photo: © Thames & Hudson)
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Can you close your eyes and picture the color Berlin blue? Most people will not immediately know that among the many shades of blue, Berlin blue is the color of the Hepatica flower or the wings of a blue jay. Over centuries, artists and naturalists alike have shared an interest in the many varied hues to be found in the natural world—from Berlin blue to tile red. The newly released Nature’s Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World by Patrick Baty is a tome devoted to reviving the color theory work of the early 19th century for a modern sensibility.

The book is based on Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours—a taxonomy of naturally-occurring hues compiled by German geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner. The influential work was expanded to include swatches for 110 colors by Patrick Syme in an 1821 edition. Nature's Palette draws from the categorizations and illustrations of its 19th-century forebears. The history of color has always been multidisciplinary—from the decorative arts to the works of biologists such as Darwin. As such, the book features over 1,000 color illustrations which are drawn from works on geology, mineralogy, biology, and more.

Nature's Palette is introduced by Patrick Baty, a British expert on historical paints and color usage. On the importance of the 1821 edition of Werner's Nomenclature of Colours, Baty tells My Modern Met, “The importance of Syme's work is that it is the first in a long chain of books on color that can be traced from the early 19th century through to the British Standard range of paint colors that was published in 1972. Each was to influence the use of color in decoration—either directly or indirectly.”

To purchase Nature’s Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World and learn more about the colors populating the natural world, head to Bookshop.org. For a quick background on color theory, check out My Modern Met's helpful article on the subject. Scroll down for a sneak peek at some illustrations included in the volume.

Nature’s Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World is a new book that features 1,000 illustrations exploring the occurrences of color in the natural world.

Color Theory Taxonomy Nomenclature

Werner's palette for blue, page 6. (Source: Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, Patrick Syme, 1821.)

Based on the 19th-century Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, Nature's Palette is a taxonomy of color and a must-read for any enthusiast of color theory.

Werner's palette of reds, page 7.

Werner's palette of reds, page 7. (Source: Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, Patrick Syme, 1821.)

With examples drawn from mineralogy, biology, and other fields, both artists and naturalists will find this tome very useful as a reference.

Parrot Werners Nomenclature Color Theory

Parrot, page 10. (Source: MS Typ 55.9 (43). Houghton Library, Harvard University.)

Explore colors such as Berlin blue and tile red—what makes them unique?

Nature's Palette Patrick Baty

Minerals, page 44. (Source: Reinhard Brauns, The Mineral Kingdom vol.2, 1912.)

Published by Princeton University Press and Thames & Hudson, the volume is introduced by author and history of color expert Patrick Baty.

Red Coral Color Naturalist Example

Red Coral [Corallium], page 248. (Source: Deliciae naturae selectae, Vol. 1, Georg Wolfgang Knorr, 1766.)

Make your world a bit more colorful with this must-read book.

Naturalist Color Theory Nature's Palette

Finch varieties, page 142. (Source: Spencer Fullerton Baird, Thomas Mayo Brewer and Robert Ridgway, A History of North American Birds, Vol. 1, 1905.)

Patrick Baty: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
Princeton University Press: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
Thames & Hudson: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Thames & Hudson and Princeton University Press.

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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