In the latest issue:

Short Cuts

Jonathan Parry

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

At the National GalleryCharles Hope
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Vol. 36 No. 14 · 17 July 2014
At the National Gallery

‘Making Colour’

Charles Hope

Apart​ from the chance invention of Prussian blue soon after 1700, the range of colours available to artists changed very little until the 19th century, when modern chemistry came into its own. Painters, of course, were not the only or, in most cases, the main consumers of these colours. They were used, for example, in the dyeing of cloth, the production of ceramics and for the decoration of all types of object, including buildings and sculpture as well as products for domestic use. Thus Venice’s industrial and mercantile strength, rather than its flourishing artistic tradition, made it a centre of the European trade in colours. The current exhibition at the National Gallery, Making Colour (until 7 September), illustrates the characteristics and use by painters of the principal types of pigment, also showing the changes made possible by the introduction of new types of paint after 1800. Most of the exhibits are drawn from the gallery’s own holdings, with a few loans from other museums and private collections in Britain. There is no catalogue as such, but labels are informative and clear, and the main themes, together with many of the specific examples, are discussed in A Closer Look: Colour by David Bomford and Ashok Roy, published by the National Gallery in 2009, the second edition of a book that first appeared in 2000. Most of the rooms are devoted to a single colour, and in addition to paintings there are specimens of pigments and the materials from which they are derived, whether mineral – for example lapis lazuli, which came from Afghanistan and was extraordinarily expensive – or animal or vegetable; the last two were the main sources of different types of red. Particularly striking is a small picture from a private collection, a well-known composition by Orazio Gentileschi, which is painted directly onto a polished sheet of lapis lazuli representing the sky.

The exhibition, then, is overtly didactic, assuming no knowledge on the part of visitors and aiming to show in an accessible way some aspects of how paintings were actually made in the past. At the same time, at various points it touches on the question of how pigments have changed over time. Blues have become greener, or have almost entirely faded; greens have become brown or blue, reds have become pink and some yellows have disappeared; and several of the paintings on display have been chosen to illustrate this. Thus Niccolò di Buonaccorso’s 14th-century The Marriage of the Virgin originally included green trees in the background; the green was achieved by a layer of yellow over blue, but the yellow has now disappeared, leaving the trees entirely blue. Much later Gainsborough was able to use the more stable Naples yellow for a dress in the famous picture of his two daughters chasing a butterfly, and it has survived much better. Colour deterioration was not limited to paintings produced before the 19th century, as can be seen in some works by Van Gogh, who was often obliged to use cheap materials. What is displayed on the walls of galleries today inevitably looks different from the way it looked when it left the artist’s studio, even without taking into account the vexed question of the types of varnish that were used in the past and the way they’ve changed over time. How conscious artists were of these irreversible changes is unclear. A short film at the end of the exhibition illustrates the effect of different lighting conditions on the appearance of paintings, and explains how our perception of colour can depend on our expectations as well as on illumination and context. Viewers’ responses to various questions are sought, but it is not made clear exactly what issues the gallery wishes to explore by this process.

The display works well and is even elegant, but it’s a pity the scope of the exhibition is so limited and its ambitions so modest. In concentrating exclusively on the painters’ materials, the organisers have left aside the larger and more interesting issues of how and why the use of these materials changed so dramatically over the centuries, and of the way the effects that could be achieved with them became so much richer and more complex. This reflects a larger failure in art history over the past century or more. Familiarity with the materials of art, their preparation and use, was traditionally a central element of artistic training, along with some grounding in drawing, perspective and anatomy. This body of expertise and knowledge, acquired by painters before they became independent masters, was normally categorised as theory, the acquisition of which necessarily preceded effective practice.

In the first half of the 19th century there was much research into this kind of theory, in which English scholars played a notable part. They included, for example, Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, the wife of a barrister in Brighton, whose publication of early texts on artistic technique and the composition of pigments is still fundamental, and who, rather unexpectedly, later became an authority on seaweed. But art historians today are much more interested in texts about art which emphasise the parallels or differences between the visual arts and other activities, such as poetry or history, with arguments often drawn from literary criticism or philosophy. For the past century or so, this kind of writing has been routinely categorised as art theory and has been intensively discussed. Much of it was written by non-artists and for the most part it was addressed to non-artists; but it’s easy enough to understand why it has such a strong appeal to academics today. The texts, of course, are worth studying for their own sake, although few of them seem to have had much impact in their own time, or to have appeared in more than one edition before the 19th century. But the result of this type of research has been to divert the attention of art historians from the concerns and priorities of artists themselves, who deserve better.

We need to combine the kind of scientific expertise developed in major museums such as the National Gallery with a more open and inquisitive attitude on the part of art historians to the relevant early written sources if we are to understand more about the way painters worked in the past, and how and why they introduced new techniques and acquired new priorities. Anything that reminds us that paintings are objects whose production required much technical knowledge and manual skill, and often a desire to overcome the physical limitations of the materials used, is to be welcomed. Making Colour shows how much more work is needed.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.