COLOUR, Travels Through The Paintbox, A Guided Tour with Victoria Finlay

In 2000, Victoria gave up her day job as arts editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and decided to write a book about where colours –the pigments and dyes you see in art and fabrics – originally came from


She travelled to Afghanistan (twice: the firing line was too hard to cross the first time) during Taliban times to find the mountains where the lapis for Michelangelo’s ultramarine blue was mined; to Chile to visit a cochineal plantation where bugs are cultivated on cactuses and then killed for the red used in lipstick; to Spain to see a mercury mine where Rome’s vermilion red was extracted by prisoners.

Part travelogue, part narrative history, Colour unlocks the history of the colours of the rainbow, and reveals how paints came to be invented, discovered, traded and used. It evokes a time when red paint was really the colour of blood, when orange was the poison pigment, blue as expensive as gold, and yellow made from the urine of cows force-fed with mangoes. It looks at how green was carried by yaks along the silk road, and how an entire nation was founded on the colour purple.

Exciting, richly informative, and always surprising, Victoria's talk lifts the lid on the historical palette and unearths an astonishing wealth of stories about the quest for colours, and our efforts to understand them.


Colour: Travels through the Paintbox was published in 2002; a decade later Victoria was contacted by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles to write a new, shorter book, this time for teenagers, about the “brilliant history of color in art”.

She returned from her research earlier this month and in this talk will be trying out for the first time some of the many new stories she has learned from the curators and conservators at the Getty. She lives near Bath.


Reviews for Colour:

'Victoria Finlay's curiosity is inexhaustible, her reading wide, and her writing style a delight' (Sunday Telegraph)

'It's pure pleasure to join this gutsy arts reporter-cum-scholar on her quest for historical pigments and dyes around the world' (Independent)

'A highly companionable guide, adventurous and romantic' (Independent on Sunday)

'An utterly unique and fascinating read' (Publishers Weekly)

'A treasure trove of human history and obsession...the breadth of research and insight is dazzling.' (The Glasgow Herald)

2013Martin Keeley