Friday, April 2, 2010

The Color Without A Name

It's the secret agent of colors: complex, discreet and completely ambiguous. You've seen it many times but may have never quite registered it because it defies categorizing. It's not gray or blue or green, but a strange and mystifying combination of all three. It changes color depending on the light and the hues which surround it. It can appear slightly sulky, calm and relaxing, or intensely introspective.

Note: It's not greige. Greige is grey meets beige and this color is much more layered than that. And it's not eau de nil or chalk or grey threadbare velvet (although that's getting closer). But I know it when I see it. I am always searching, searching for it and when I find an example, I collect it carefully into a special folder titled "Color X."

Here it is, atmospheric and ethereal, in this ocean on a cloudy day.
(T. F. Simon, "Windy Beach on Normandy", 1924)

Here, Otto Dix painted himself in a suit of it. Understated and subtle, it nevertheless calls attention to itself in an elegant way.
("To Beauty", 1922)

It makes a beautiful counterpoint against warm, pink skin, as seen in this interior.
(Pierre Bonnard, "La Sieste", c. 1899)

At other times, it gives off an air of unapproachable sangfroid.
(George Grosz, "Remember Uncle August", 1919)

Here, Christopher Baily of Burberry covered a favorite chair in a floral pattern that incorporates bits of it. The peachy background really makes it sing.

John Singer Sargent painted circular patterns of it onto that lush rug. It sets off red beautifully -- look at how alive that screen in the corner is.
(John Singer Sargent, "Daughters of E. D. Bolt", 1882)

The Neue Galerie shop uses a chair covered in it to make some Madeline Weinrib pillows really pop.
(via here)

My eyes hunt for it constantly. Once you have it in your brain, it's remarkable how often you can find it. Can you spot it here, in this photo of the Queen meeting Sir David Bailey? (It's on the strip of flocked wallpaper between them.)
(via here)

Most paint companies have their own version of it. Here are a smattering of them:

Benjamin Moore 1635 Water's Edge

Benjamin Moore AC-17 Sea Pine

Benjamin Moore 1633 Brittany Blue

Behr 730F-4 Flint Smoke

Ace 190-C Dusty Jeans

Sears Shadow Cloud

Farrow and Ball Light Blue

California Paints Standish Blue

So what color is X?

The color of antique milk glass?
Of a Norse legend?
Of an oxidized copper roof by moonlight?
Of a 1920's silk faille tea gown?
Of a nor'easterly wind?

What would you call it?

(Editors Note: The answers in so far are lovely..."English Channel", "Being and Nothingness", "November", "Ether", "D Day Landing Sky", "Dust", "Undertow"....You're poets, all of you.)


Karena said...

I love how you incorporate so much art into your posts. The shade takes on a different hue depending on the light, the surrounding color palette, etc. There are some with a more blue, yellow, or green undertone!

Art by Karena

Giveaway is up on my site, so please come & join in!

mary said...

That's English Channel ... though I see you've already included a painting of La Manche!

Victoria Thorne said...

maybe November (the time of year when you are somewhat happy to see an iron sky, and know that there may be snow soon)

can a color be a month?

or, maybe, Ether

it's beautiful. thanks for bringing it up.

Jane said...

To me it is a weather colour. The sky on the morning of the D Day landings, or on an icy winter's day in that moment just before the sun rises or as reflected darkly on some ice over a lake in turn of the century St Petersburg just before the sun sets and just after the skaters have finished for the day.

A very hard colour to wear as tea gown or anything else! You would need that porcelain, red hair colouring to make it work.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

DUST and I love it

Debra said...

Ahhhhh... I am very familiar with this color. It's a coastal color- one that I recognize from many long walks along Maine beaches.
Last summer we were at The Portland Museum of Art. There was one painting there that captured this color brilliantly with rolling surf. I didn't jot down the artist's name and poke myself at least once every couple of weeks for not doing so. Isn't it lovely~ this non-color? {Undertow}

Unknown said...

"being and nothingness"

froogal said...

Antique engravings...more so, early copper engravings which have more warmth than steel engravings.

balsamfir said...

I get that color sometimes by using a german green umber from Kremer Pigmente, and adding white. Or I mix black, yellow and white together, or I use Winsor newton's olive green with various additions. Its one of my favorite colors, but I don't have a name for it. Bog greige perhaps. Or Hurricane clouds, since I once saw clouds this color in St. Louis and that's what followed.

Unknown said...

Beautiful, sea foam would my mother say...
and I think it could be anything, like a chameleon. Amnything moody that is! Old tin or seashells,dark sky or thunder laden air.


ASL said...
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ASL said...

Victoria Falls

Vanya Wilkinson said...
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Vanya Wilkinson said...

the best (and my favourite) colours are those that are not quite one thing or the other; those that tantalise the senses, tempt and tease the eye.....

P.S: how heavenly is that floral chair - swoon

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I would name it Dunvegan.

I reminds me of the colour of Dunvegan Castle on a October day.

L.P. said...

One of my favorite colors, I am always looking out for it too, especially in clothing and even eye shadow.

Hm, maybe Pigeon Wing? I like it with hints of lavender, green, and gold, too.

Kate said...

Ok, I'll play along because this is a color I look for and paint often:
"before the mustard blooms sky" for now cause I live in Napa.
"above the sugar cane" for when I lived on Oahu and
"homecoming season" for when I lived on an island in Seattle in September

ASL said...

Cornish Holiday

ASL said...
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Anonymous said...

"Remember This"

pve design said...

what about;
poet's garden
mouse mousse
foggy bottom
love that sort of greige/beige color-

Dash said...

This is one of my favourite colours, a lot of farmhouses,round here have their shutters painted this colour, so I would call it: Pyrenean shutter, or seagull.

skirmishofwit said...

What an interesting post! I adore that colour, although think it encompasses too much to be called just one thing!

Acanthus and Acorn said...

Vapor or Translucent.

I have long been in love with this "color" far too long. It's easier to describe the mood and qualties. The actual color is far more elusive.

It reminds me of the interior walls in the movie Sense and Sensibility. Perhaps Hollywood knows the name?

Helen James said...

I too love this colour and all our paintwork upstairs is light blue by Farrow and ball, teamed with Teresa's green in the bathroom for the full on effect.
It also the colour of a Lichen that grows on the trees here so I would call it
"Irish Lichen"

karen said...

My family calls this "Mickey" color....simply because we had a Weimaraner dog named Mickey that was this color. We loved this color so much my mom had her home decorated using this color often.
It's classy. But I'm still going with "Mickey" color. Not quite as poetic...but rather sentimental.

home before dark said...

I had a friend who both like to cook and restore old cars. He had a car he had been working on for years and was finally approaching paint color decision time. He attempted to describe his vision: not gray, not brown, kinda in between and then the genius moment: you know the color on the back side of a hershey's bar that's been in the cabinet too long (he went on to tell me that condition was known as "bloom"). Makes me smile everything I see it.

Lucille said...

London pavement. (Although sadly these days it would have black blobs of discarded chewing gum on it.)

24 Corners said...

Such a lovely color...we just painted samples of B.Moore's Revere Pewter and Edgecomb Gray. Both had that glowing quality about them that you just can't wrap your eyes around to figure out if they are gray, yellowish/greenish or blueish with a tinge of haze.

This color shows up quite a bit in paintings done by many of the Dutch Masters such as Vermeer and Joos de Mompar II, especially when the scene is out of doors.

I think then....Dutch Sky (or Sea, or Snow, or Dress, or ...etc.)

Lovely post as usual...thank you and Happy Easter!

Anonymous said...

It is a satisfying color because it is a warm grey. So many greys are cool. It is the grey that you see in clouds, where all of the colors in the color wheel are actually present, but in varying intensities, due to the angle of the sun.

LiveLikeYou said...

I love color! Sometimes the non descript ones can be the most amazing.

Marti said...

The colors of my son's eyes! I've been searching for the name for three years, now. Labradorite is close, but I like "Tommy's Eyes."

Unknown said...

Dove grey

Lynne Rutter said...

the color of the sky right before it starts raining.

gamblin oil color every year puts out a "color" they call "torit grey". it made from all the powdered pigment stuck in the air filters, which they clean out and make into paint rather than waste it. every year it's a slightly different color.
and it's a wonderful paint for just this effect. it's all colors together and no color at all.

Errant Aesthete said...

I feel a surge of warmth for this color no matter what it is called. It is evocative in a way that is rather uncommon in color and so many comments here reflect that feeling at seeing the complexity of it on the feathers of a dove, for example, or the aging shutters of a farmhouse. I, too, feel an intrinsic pull and connection with the sky and sea that the "Windy Beach on Normandy" so eloquently illustrates.

A lovely post.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Lynne Rutter: That color sounds like the most amazing thing ever! I love the whole idea of it...and that it's )of course) different every year. Amazing. I must check it out asap. xx

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