Hello Yellow

Yellow equals pretty much sunshine and happy feelings. It is a fresh stimulating and cheerful colour that we associate with summertime. Ah the lovely sensation we get from the warm golden glow of the sun shining! It can give us a sense of energy and optimism. The ancient Mayans associated the colour yellow with the direction south and it meant precious and ripe in their culture.

Hazard signs are often shown against a yellow background due to its high visibility.  In 1907, Harry N. Allen, a New York business man created a modern taxi driver company and used yellow for his new fleet when he realised that yellow was the most visible colour from a distance. Cowardice and treachery are the negative connotations of the colour yellow. During the Second World war in Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews were made to wear a yellow star of David on their chest and a yellow armband below their right-handside armpit as they were considered the enemies.

Chrome yellow was the first manufactured yellow that was produced at the beginning of the 19th century. Earlier yellows were muted and obtained from ochre and raw sienna. Orpiment, a rare and toxic mineral varies in colour from an orangy-brown to a canary yellow. It has been identified on ancient Egyptian objects and paintings. It was also used in Northern Europe during medieval times as exemplified in the Book of Kells and Durrow (C.800).  The early Christian monks illustrated the intricate lettering and stylised illuminated figures by grounding the orpiment and mixing the powder with water and egg white to bind the colour onto paper.


Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1957

Buff, old ivory, buttery yellow, buttercup yellow, cerium yellow, Jasmine yellow, Naples yellow, brimstone yellow,  vanilla yellow, mori yellow, primrose yellow, sunlight yellow, copper yellow


JH Fragonard, Young woman reading (1776)

Lemon yellow, mimosa yellow, nasturtium yellow, daffodil yellow, marigold yellow, rape yellow,golden rod, chrome yellow, Hansa yellow, sunflower yellow, canary yellow, saffron yellow, chamomille yellow


Amber yellow, Mars yellow, orpiment yellow, aurora yellow, mustard yellow, maize yellow, Indian yellow, Spanish yellow, tobacco yellow, Gamboge yellow, straw yellow, Mayan yellow, gold, topaz yellow, safflower yellow, turmeric, Venitian yellow

In the world of interiors

Yellow can be a difficult colour to choose for an interior as it may appear too bright and overpower the room visually. It is best to use it in moderation to brighten up a north-facing room or to give a room a sense of gentle warmth by selecting pale shades such as Devine Whip or Crystal by Colortrend.

Throughout the decades, from the Shakers who only used primary colours to the the Arts and Crafts artisans who got their colour inspiration from flowers and plants and the Art Deco designers, yellow has been extensively used. Yellow was one of the favorite colours of the pop art culture of the Sixties which favored bright bold colours. Try Cowslip or Camomile by Laura Ashley  for their boldness and intensity.

Rich golden yellows decorated the interiors of early 19th century homes after the discovery of frescoes in Pompeii during extensive excavations. This trend persisted later in the century with the influence of travellers bringing back artefacts from exotic countries such as Egypt, Morocco or India.  Try Babouche by Farrow and Ball.

Summertime by C.Boydell

Out there Now

  • Summertime and Rince (Dancing), ceramics in Irish terracotta by Cormac Boydell
  • The Ardea armchair designed by Carlo Mollino in 1944 available from Zanotta
  • The Dani natural raffia dress by John Rocha, Spring/Summer 2012 collection
  • The Simpsons: their creator Matt Groening chose yellow for his characters as it was different and bright.

In the Natural World

The number of plants, flowers, birds and butterflies showing a variation of the colour yellow is quite vast. One of the first flowers to announce the Spring season is the daffodil.  Canaries are one of the most common feathered pets and the sight of fluffy newly-hatched chicks is n uplifting experience. Sulphur is an abundant natural mineral whose well-know daily uses include matches and insecticides. It has the characteristic pungent smell of a rotten egg. Onion skins, rhubard and turmeric naturally produce different yellow dyes.

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  1. Muriel Sanchez

     /  July 25, 2012

    What an array of words to name the different shades of yellow! My favourite expression has to be “mimosa yellow” for the actual beauty and vivid colour of the flowers. What is yours?

    • I think my farorite is buttercup yellow as it brings back childhood memories. We used to hold a buttercup under our chins to see if the reflection of the petals against our skin. I still remember the gentle luminous yellow colour. If you could see the colour, it meant we liked butter!


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