The artists’ palette

The tonal variations of blue have been widely represented by artists throughout history. I’ve made a selection of art works that illustrate the variations of blues from pale to moderate and dark.


  • Berthe Morisot: Le Pont de Lorient, 1869
  • Claude Monet: Régattes à Argenteuil 1872
  • Henri de Toulouse Lautrec: Femme faisant sa toilette, 1896*
  • Edouard Munch: Nuit d’Hiver, 1901
  • Nicolas de Staël:  Paysage Méditerranéen, 1953


  • Albrecht Altdorfer: Landscape at Regensbury, 1520
  • Franz Marc:The Blue Horses, 1911*
  • Joan Miró: Painting 1927
  • Henri Matisse: Le Cirque (Jazz), 1943-46


  • Johannes Vermeer: The Mildmaid, 1658-60
  • Auguste Renoir: La Parisienne, 1874
  • Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait in Paris, Summer 1887
  • James Whistler: Nocturne en bleu et or, 1872-75*
  • Paul Gauguin: La Belle Angèle, 1889

The following paintings represent more than one shade of blue:

  • Vincent van Gogh: Portrait du Docteur Gachet, 1890
  • Patrick Caulfield: After Lunch, 1975
  • Susan Rottenberg:  Blue U-Turn, 1989

In the world of interiors 

Pale blues can be found in the Edwardian style (1901 to 191o). Their use of pastel blues was a direct result of the influence of the Arts and Craft movement of the latter part of the 19th century. Another example of pale blues emerged during the 1950s when muted colours were popular. Think of the SMEG fridges and Cadillac cars. To source that colour now, look out for ‘Dainty’ by Colortrend.

A key colour for the Art Nouveau movement of the early part of the 20th century was the moderate tone ‘Peacock blue’. When Tutankhmun’s tomb was discovered in 1922 turquoise became all the rage throughout that decade and into the early 1930s. My recommendation for turquoise paint is ‘Turquoise Blue’  by Dulux Heritage Collection

Shaker style: late 1740s to 1900 favoured natural plant dyes to make their paints and to dye their fabrics for clothing. They only used primary colours, the result being a deep blue. The reference for dark blue is ‘Hague blue’  by Farrow & Ball.

Out There Now

  • Charles Ghost Stool (Light blue) by Philippe Stark
  • Enamel demi-kettle (Turquoise) by Le Creuset
  • Blue Shanghai and Elvira’s Blue Spring Collection by Stylist Gudrun Sjoden
  • Serpentine (Midnight) fabric Spring Summer Collection by Laura Ashley
  • Ceramic works by Ellen Horan*

In the natural world

Indigo: The blue dye indigotin is derived from the leaves of the tropical plant indigofera

Woad: The plant isatis tinctoria found mainly in France and the Netherlands give a variety of blue shades, as it contains indigotin in small quantities. Woad production was protected in the 16th and 17th centuries but became less valued over time as indigo made brighter blues.

Blueberries: the only naturally occurring food of a blue colour.

Blue animals that can be found are: the poisonous blue dart frog found in Central America and the Blue Jay bird native to the North American continent.

Finally, from the natural world, an edible mushroom, the indigo milk mushroom, ranges in colour from dark blue in fresh specimens to pale blue-gray in older ones. It can be found in the Americas and has also been spotted in parts of Southern France.


Out of the Blue

Working with and understanding the impact of colour is an intrinsic part of the work of a designer. Wherever we are, we are surrounded by an abundance of colours. We can experience them emotionally; finding them visually pleasing or unnerving. Colour is a truly personal choice and there  are always the one(s) we really like and the one(s) we cannot bear. When it comes to seeing or choosing a colour, be it in terms of interiors or fashion, we probably all have a different shade in mind. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore the main colours, focusing on theirs variations in tone, their names and their use in art and interiors.  I will start with the colour blue.

Although blue is described as a favorite colour by many people, a majority would consider blue to be a cold colour and therefore they tend to shy  away from it when it comes to using it in their home. Blue can indeed be icy, cool and can sometimes look pale or dull but, contrary to popular belief, it can also be warm, rich and sophisticated. Blue can create a sense of freshness, tranquility, reverie, or even of sadness. When it comes to paler or deeper shades. It can also bring out a feeling of happiness, freedom or sometimes power and can be totally uplifting.

I’ve tried to list  as many blues as possible and I have grouped them into three main categories from icy blues to moderate and deep blues.

ICY: Alice blue*, glacier blue, duck egg blue, powder blue, ice blue, silvery blue, aquamarine, baby blue, celeste blue, opal blue, light blue, antique blue, cornflower blue, sky blue, Russian blue,  lagoon blue, celadon blue

MODERATE: Cobalt blue, turquoise, delphinium blue, Wedgewood blue, Forget-me-not blue, electric blue, Airforce blue, cyan blue, Antwerp blue, royal blue, Dresden blue, Delf blue, denim blue, sapphire blue, cerulean blue, lapis lazuli

DEEP: Slate blue, Steel blue, Smoke Blue, Saxe blue, Medici blue, Persian blue, Prussian blue, navy blue, indigo blue, midnight blue

Some blues were hard to put into any of the categories I’ve listed above. These are:

Lavender blue, wisteria blue, teal blue, peacock blue, titmouse blue.

*Alice blue gets its name from Alice Roosevelt-Longworth (1884 – 1980) who inspired a fashion trend for women to wear this shade of blue.