Colour Studies

On 18th February 2015 our Academic Liaison Librarian Duncan Chappell gave a lecture to Glasgow Colour Studies Group on resources for the study of colour within our rare books collections.Thankfully, many of these important books escaped the Mackintosh Fire, and Duncan presented a particularly colourful selection of these to the group.


Polychromatic Ornament (1873), translated from the French of Albert Racinet, illustrates two thousand examples of ornament from across the world and from the past. It contains one hundred chromolithographed plates of various styles of ornament such as Egyptian, Medieval, Chinese, and Byzantine, all interpreted in a western manner. This book had a didactic aim which suited well the purpose of the GSA which had been founded in 1845 to train designers for industry. Grammar of Ornament (1856) by Owen Jones, containing over one hundred chromolithographs, formulated the key principles of the decorative arts, and most art schools would own several copies. Also saved were The Art of Decorative Design (1862) by Christopher Dresser, a Glaswegian and key figure in the Aesthetic Movement; and his Principles of Decorative Design (c.1875) which quickly went into four editions.


The GSA library has an excellent collection of books illustrating the pochoir technique of stencilling which is a labour-intensive, hand-drawn process, typically French. It was a reaction against mechanised printing, and was at its peak in 1920s and 1930s Paris. Jean Saudé was a pre-eminent master, writing the treatise Traité d’enluminure d’art au pochoir (1925). In the library is Inspirations, published in Paris in the early 1900s, a portfolio of designs in a modernist style, inspired by fractal mathematics and crystallography, thus illustrating a cross-over between science and art, and Formes et couleurs by Auguste Thomas (1921).


Edouard Benedictus was a chemist and artist who exhibited at the 1925 Paris exhibition. He published Relais in 1930 which contained some startlingly bright designs. Duncan also showed some pages from Or et couleurs by G. Darcy (1923), and Fleurs by Serge Gladky (1929), the latter in the cubist style of geometric forms abstracted from nature.

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Possibly the greatest exponent of pochoir is Émile-Allain Séguy, and the GSA holds nine of his volumes, in which stylized flower forms feature particularly prominently. Examples include Samarkande (1920), Prismes (1930?) and the famous Papillons (1925).

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The GSA library holds other categories of colourful books. Firstly, on interiors, there are trade catalogues and pattern books such as those of John Line & Sons of 1950s London, and books such as Color Schemes of Adam Ceilings (New York, 1928) which reproduces the original studies by the Adam brothers. Secondly, on artists’ books, the GSA holds over one thousand examples. These are books produced by an artist for mass distribution, thus democritizing art. Examples are: Spring Snow (c.2002), a visual translation by Alison Turnbull of Yukio Mishima’s novel; and English Coloured Papers (2009) in which poems by Simon Cutts accompany colour swatches.


A third category in the library is costume and textiles, examples of which include The Setts of the Scottish Tartans by Donald Calder Stewart (1950), and other books on tartans. Also in stock are various textile swatch-books including those issued by the British Colour Council to provide standards for industry, horticulture and other subject areas. Fourthly, the GSA has books on colour theory, vision science and visual perception. Examples include: Suggestions for the Study of Colour by H. Barrett Carpenter (1915); Colour Harmony and Contrast by James Ward (1912); An Introduction to the Study of Colour by J. Littlejohns for Winsor & Newton (1928); Munsell’s Color Notation (1954); Ogden Rood’s Colour (1890); and sets of the Ishihara colour blindness tests, first issued in 1917.



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