FACT 1 – IS IT PURPLE OR VIOLET?
So, what’s the difference between purple and violet????
Well, first off, violet is a true colour, that forms part of the electromagnetic spectrum first identified by Sir Isaac Newton in the 1660’s and forms part of the 7 colours of the rainbow.
As a rule of thumb, violet is bluer than purple which is more reddish in tone. Other shades/terms for violet include Lilac and Tyrian Purple, Orcil, Magenta, Mauve or Heliotrope. (St. Clair, 2016)
Violet/purple has been around since prehistoric times with traces of it having been found in the caves of Altamira and Lascaux (Ball, 2001).
According to Kassia St Clair in her wonderful book – ‘The Secret Lives of Colour (2016)’, Tyrian purple was ‘a symbol of the wealthy and elite, helped establish the link with the divine’ and was the toga colour choice of Julius Caesar when he came home to Rome after Cleopatra birth him a son. It was made from ‘two varieties of shellfish native to the Mediterranean’ where ‘the liquid harvest from the shellfish glands was placed into a vat of stale urine (for the ammonia) and allowed to ferment for 10 days before the cloth was added. As ‘each specimen contained a single drop it took around 250,000 to make an ounce of dye.’
FACT 2 – SHADES OF VIOLET – THE IMPRESSIONIST’S CHOICE
NOTE: Again, these facts have been extracted from Kassia St Clair’s book – The Secret Lives of Colour.
In 1874, Degas, Monet, Cezanne, Pissarro founded the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers &c., and organised their first show, as a protest or snub to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which had just rejected their work for the prestigious annual Salon Exhibition. At the time, the establishment was equally scathing about the Impressionists and the journalist and art critic for Le Charivari newspaper ‘Louis Leroy accused Monet’s Impression, Sunrise of not being a finished painting at all but a mere preparatory sketch’. (St Clair, 2016)
Claude Monet (1840–1926)
Musée Marmottan Monet
‘Many concluded that the artists were, to a man, completely mad, or at the very least suffering from a hitherto unknown disease, which they dubbed ‘violettomania’. It would be as difficult to persuade Pissarro that the trees were not violet, joked one, as to persuade the inmate of a lunatic asylum that he wasn’t the Pope in the Vatican. Another wondered if the artists’ fascination with the colour was a result of the Impressionists spending too much time en plain air’ ….. Alfred de Lostalot, ‘hypothesised that’ Monet’ ‘might be among the rare number of people who could see into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum’ ….. ‘He and his friends see purple….[T]he crowd sees otherwise; hence the disagreement.’ (St Clair, 2016 & O. Reutersvärd, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol 9 No.2 (Dec, 1950))
The impressionists were of the view ‘that shadows were never really black or grey, but coloured’. (St Clair, 2016) They also believed ‘that since the complementary colour to the yellow of the sunlight was violet, it made sense that this would be the colour of the shade’. (St Clair, 2016)