The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair

The Irish Times
By Cathy Dillon

Journalist Kassia St Clair has been writing a column for Elle Decoration on colours since 2013. Every month, she picks a hue and regales her readers with its story – dipping into art, science, history, politics, myths, legends and more. Now she has picked 75 of the most interesting and put them together in this lovely compendium. The main categories: white, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, blue, green, brown and black are subdivided into shades and tints – including unusual ones such as madder, gamboge and Isabelline. St Clair reveals, among other titbits, that the reason silver was originally chosen for tableware is because it was thought that poison made it change colour, and that the black kohl ancient Egyptians used to outline their eyes contained lead chlorides which helped protect against infections that could cause blindness. Even the introduction contains a fascinating – and slightly worrying – fact: that Issac Newton’s “rather arbitrary” slicing up of the rainbow into seven colour segments was just done so that it would echo his theories on music. This is a perfect gift for a colour enthusiast. Or just saturate yourself.

Kassia St Clair
History