“The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite” - John Ruskin, leading art critic.
If, like us, you are interested in design, then you may be aware that last year (and we mean a few months ago) leading colour trend and palette curation company Pantone released their colour for 2020: Classic blue.
Classic blue was chosen with the intention to resonate with a collective and wide audience. A colour that inspires deep reflection, a sense of cohesiveness and tranquillity, Pantone’s 2020 shade was meant to bring us all closer together, unifying the world where climate and politics seek to drive us apart.
Generally, the infatuation with blue has transpired for centuries, fascinating our ancestors, artists, fashion designers and scientists. Here at Lillicoco, we love being inspired by trends in the fashion and art world, a world where jewellery inhabits. With this in mind, we have put together a blog that pays homage to this shade and we also take a closer look into how blue, in all of its shades, has influenced art, fashion and jewellery.
Fascination with Classic Blue
First and foremost, we need to understand exactly WHY we have this fascination with blue. Recent studies have shown that amongst both men and women, blue was the favoured colour. So, it could be interpreted that Pantone made a ‘safe’ choice. This is because we know that blue resonates with everyone; a universal colour of tranquillity, peace and positivity.
Yet, blue has fascinated people for centuries because, unlike other colours, blue is not tangible. The colour of the sea and the sky, blue cannot naturally be bottled up, ground or easily sourced, and through ingenuities of modern science can now be created through artificial means.
Perhaps this was why it was so revered and thus has become associated not only with tranquillity but also rarity.
In North America and Europe, blue translates to trust, security and authority, considered to be soothing and peaceful. Yet, in some countries like Turkey, Greece, Iran, Afghanistan and Albania, blue symbolises both healing and the repellence of evil - utilised in the evil eye symbol.
Pantone’s influence, extending beyond the paradigms of fashion, decoration and art, is choosing this shade of blue because it possesses a positive meaning in so many different cultures.
Pantone’s previous colours of ‘Living Coral’ in 2019 and ‘Ultra Violet’ in 2018 were also chosen in a politically fragmented climate. Yet these were chosen for their jovial nature, hoping to ignite and motivate positive passions across the globe.
Although, Pantone, like many others, are starting to see that it's no longer working. In many ways, the world is dramatically changing, and cohesiveness is paramount to move forward. We think that Pantone has chosen this colour to bring us all back together. A colour that isn’t necessarily new, but it will always be current, on-trend and, of course, classic.
Art’s Love Affair with Blue
The world’s collective fascination with blue travels back centuries, as it was one of the hardest hues to covet and create. Unlike other pigments that could be easily sourced from plants, food and the earth like green, red, yellow, orange, and brown, blue, was another story altogether.
Despite being incredibly difficult to source, blue nonetheless has fascinated artists and creators since the Ancient Egyptians. In fact, one of the earliest blue pigments, ultramarine came from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, a gemstone we will further explore later. Allegedly, Cleopatra wore powdered lapis lazuli on her eyelids.
Ultramarine, as a pigment, was first used in 6th-century Buddhist frescoes, quickly evolving to becoming the most sought after colour in Medieval Europe. Its scarcity only surmounted to its deep intrigue, with lapis lazuli itself rivalling the price of Gold.
Only used for the most important commissions by the most esteemed patrons, it is probably no surprise that ultramarine is often pictured in works of art by great Renaissance artists, and soon became associated with the Virgin Mary herself.
Sassoferrato, The Virgin in Prayer, 1640-1650, Source - The National Gallery London
Vermeer, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, 1665, Source - Mauritshuis The Netherlands
Ultramarine is a key signifier in the power of colour. A power which started to take shape in Indigo, a crop that produced a deep violet-blue hue that was used primarily to dye fabric.
However, indigo blue was so sought after that created trade wars between European nations and the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1880, synthetic indigo was developed, leading these wars, but not the demand, to cease. Today, indigo is widely used to dye denim.
Aziz and Suleman Khatri, Indigo Moon Sari, 2012, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Another notable shade of blue that has fascinated the art world is International Klein Blue, created by the artist Yves Klein.
Yves Klein exclusively worked with this shade from 1957 onwards, which was a bespoke matte version of ultramarine. Clothing Venuses and enshrouding canvases, Yves Klein blue is bright, provocative and daring. Perhaps the opposite of Pantone Classic blue but nonetheless important.
With this in mind, below are our favourite famous blue paintings that continue to enthral us:
Pablo Picasso Blue Period
Between 1900 and 1904, Pablo Picasso exclusively created monochromatic paintings using variations of blue and green tones. Appearing to show his poverty and instability, street beggars and sex workers have been immortalised in shades of deep blues, murky greens, the colour of ponds, tears and sea.
Pablo Picasso, Celestina, 1903, Source - Pablo Picasso
Van Gogh, Starry Night and Self Portrait
Two of the most recognised paintings in Western culture, Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Self Portrait show two different powerful interpretations of blue. One being idyllic and bucolic, his French provençal town below bathed under the moonlight, and the other believed to be Van Gogh’s last self-portrait, a touching yet deeply saddening portrayal. Regardless, both works are incredibly beautiful, and… blue.
Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night, 1889 - Source MoMA.
Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1889, Source - Musée d'Orsay.
Matisse - Blue Nudes
A series of lithographs created by Henri Matisse in the 1950s, these blue creations are one-dimensional in form, depicting nude women draped in blue in various positions. The solid slabs of single colour added volume to the piece and equated Matisse with Fauvism.
Henri Matisse Blue Nude II, 1952, Source - MoMA
With Pantone Classic Blue, the love affair between history of art and blue starts a new chapter.
Fashion and Blue
“You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.” - The Devil Wears Prada.
Similarly to the art world, the fashion world is also infatuated with blue. It is no secret that blue and gender has been fiercely interlinked, with beliefs that especially for young children, blue was allocated to boys and pink for girls. It cannot be exactly pinpointed as to how this belief came about, but it was dictated in numerous women’s fashion magazines and literature in the 19th century including the London Lady’s Newspaper, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, and the Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine.
Carriage, Walking Costume and Children’s Dresses, June 1842, Le Follet - Source, The National Portrait Gallery.
Despite this, blue in all of its shades, whether cerulean, electric, cobalt, navy, peacock and petrol, is heavily abundant in women's fashion. And has been so for centuries. In fact, similarly to Renaissance art, the scarcity of blue in pigment meant that in terms of clothes dye it was only reserved for the members of the elite.
During the Elizabethan period, only royal family members were allowed to dress in blue due to expensive pigments and dyes being imported from India. Yet this has undeniably lead to blue being synonymous with elegance and refinement.
The colour of the heavens, wearing blue inspired others to look up to you.
Portrait of allegedly Maria di Cosimo, 1555-1557, Source - Pinterest.
Perfect upon any occasion, blue clothes can easily be smart, casual, ethereal, pretty, and striking. So, up until the 1950’s, blue has always been associated with the wealthier classes.
However, during the 1950s to 1970s, originally a working trouser, jeans quickly became the garment of choice amongst young people, being comfortable to wear, appealing to both genders and aligning with the rebellious feelings amongst the youth. Before this, jeans were workers trousers that originally adorned the Genoan navy.
From bootcut to straight leg, skinny to ‘mom’, denim jeans completely changed the way that blue was incorporated into fashion.
Yet, how does this tie in with Pantone choosing blue? Well, from blue denim jeans being present in every person’s wardrobe, it can be assumed that everyone identifies with blue. Not to mention blue is vastly incorporated into every other piece and item of clothing.
What's more, denim was the sign of rebellion and resistance against previous generations, so blue as a shade for resilience started to evolve, a resilience that resonates with everyone around us today.
Classically Blue Gemstones
Of course, as an antique jewellery specialist, we couldn’t NOT talk about classically blue gemstones. As you will soon find out, the blue hue of these gemstones below have inspired their mystical and tranquil meanings, akin to the symbolism behind Classic Blue today.
A heavily saturated semi-precious gemstone. Lapis Lazuli's deep blue hue has made it incredibly sought after for centuries, dating back to ancient civilisations. As mentioned earlier, powdered lapis lazuli was a form of eye makeup for Cleopatra, and it was used for the ultramarine pigment in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Revered for thousands of centuries as amulets and ornaments, lapis lazuli was a symbol of the starry night, peppered with Gold and bringing light, wisdom and freedom to the wearer.
A stone that is ubiquitous with the colour blue, promising wisdom, royalty and prophecy, like lapis lazuli, Sapphires have been revered for millenia. Considered to be the height of celestial hope and faith, we can see why Sapphires are symbols of power and strength, adding to the connotations surrounding blue as a colour to be admired.
Originating from the Latin for ‘seawater’, aquamarine is a pale blue stone that is akin to fresh Turquoise waters. Associated with being calming and soothing, it a tranquil stone that is meant to help open up channels of communication. What’s more, Aquamarines are a stunning delicate shade of blue!
Only unearthed in 1967, which is pretty much yesterday in the antique jewellery world, tanzanite is also a deep blue. Inspiring feelings of mystery, magic, nobility and luxury, many use tanzanite for spiritual exploration and meditation.
Another stone that was loved by the Egyptians, it was believed that Azurite was potent in its psychic powers. What’s more, ancient Chinese civilizations believed that Azurite would open a celestial gateway. Both of these interpretations and beliefs have contributed to its general belief that Azurite can help to open up new perspectives, immediately resonating with the meaning behind Pantone’s Classic Blue.
At the Lillicoco office, we love Pantone’s choice for 2020. A shade that clearly will never go out of style, Pantone’s Classic Blue is a great shade for interior decoration, fashion, and jewellery, appealing to all.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this blog! If you have any comments you would like to share, feel free to comment below!