“Mauve is just pink trying to be purple.” James McNeil Whistler
In the nineteenth century, the color mauve became all the rage in more than one country, so much so that the 1890’s were called The Mauve Decade, in a book by Thomas Beer. The rage started with two royal ladies, Queen Victoria of England and Empress Eugenie of France. Queen Victoria wore a dress in Mauve to her daughter’s wedding setting off one rage. Empress Eugenie declared Mauve was the color of her eyes setting off another rage. But Mauve’s beginning came about in a scientific experiment gone wrong.
A young chemist named William Henry Perkin in 1856 was experimenting with chemicals working to produce artificial quinine. He was unsuccessful at the quinine but his experiments produced a residue with an unexpected tint. That tint later became known as Perkin’s Mauve and was the first synthetic dye. Perkins left his chemistry studies to initiate the development of the synthetic dye industry. Perkins Mauve was derived from coal tar. Some sources give the origin of the name as from the French word for the mallow plant, malva. The mallow flowers are a color similar to what is now known as mauve.
Mauve rages come and go. Mauve goes into favor and out again. Sometimes mauve returns disguised as a “new” color. Pantone’s color of the year, Radiant Orchid, looks more than a bit like a dressed up version of Mauve. Another Mauve will eventually replace the current Radiant Orchid and Mauve will be recycled again. Mauve as an artist’s paint color lives mainly with botanical painters.
I can’t help thinking of Mauve as a popular color for dresses worn by my grandmother and her friends. Its difficult to get excited about a color that brings up pictures of old ladies in dusty pinkish purple dresses, white gloves and dainty hats, sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Unfair maybe, but shutting down that visual is just impossible.
“A captivating harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones, Radiant Orchid emanates great love, joy and health.” Leatrice Eiseman executive director, Pantone Color Institute
Frantically searching through paint boxes, “Radiant Orchid” is nowhere to be found. No “Radiant Orchid” in the watercolor box or the oil box. Can’t find it in the pastels either. Horror of horrors! What if the 2014 Color of the Year can’t be added to new paintings? Pantone has declared “Radiant Orchid” the 2014 Color of the Year. Nothing easy this year compared to last year’s Emerald. Anybody can find some Emerald and squeeze it right out of the tube. Not “Radiant Orchid!” No tube comes with that label. How can an artist paint something to go with all the “Radiant Orchid” furniture, walls, and other interior design features of 2014? The only option is to mix it.
Leatrice Eiseman of Pantone describes “Radiant Orchid” as fuchsia, purple and pink undertones. That could be any number of color combinations available in the average artist’s paint supplies. The quinacradones, magentas, and cobalts possibly added to ultramarine or alizarin crimson. And don’t forget the mauves. The only way to find “Radiant Orchid” is to start mixing. The problem is in knowing when the exact match for “Radiant Orchid” has been achieved. Which orchids are the radiant ones?
But, have no fear! Pantone also states, “An invitation to innovation, “Radiant Orchid” encourages expanded creativity and originality, which is increasingly valued in today’s society.” While mixing the various reds and blues to come up with a personal version of “Radiant Orchid” that “expanded creativity” will be available to draw on. What more could an artist ask? So get those paint tubes out and start mixing. Or risk being undervalued in today’s society!
No telling what will happen with all that expanded creativity. A completely original version of “Radiant Orchid” may be revealed. The new mix can become, as Pantone says, “a dazzling attention-getter” possibly hurling the artist into the glare of a radiant spotlight. Soon everything will be coming up orchids. Isn’t that “everything’s coming up roses?” Not this year, it isn’t. This year, it’s coming up orchids, at least the radiant ones.
For more on the Color of the Year 2014 click on the link to Pantone: