The deep empty, the depth of the blue…

photo credit: JNeuberger 

A short portrait of the color blue

Blue is mostly associated with the sky and the sea. A lot of sayings like ‘out of the blue’ or ‘into the blue’ are based on these associations: blue as the unknown, distant, unexpected and mysterious color.

A survey from 2009 suggests that most people in the US and Europe prefer blue to all other colors.

In western art history blue gained significance in the early Middle Ages between 1130 – 1140 when the Basilica Saint Denis in Paris was rebuilt with stained glass windows colored with cobalt blue. ‘Cobalt’ became known as the ‘bleu de Saint Denis’.


photo credit: Jerry

Also in the 12th century the fashion for the Virgin Mary changed to blue robes instead of black, grey or green, a good choice for the ‘queen of heaven’. As a result blue became a color for divinity, purity and virtue. The cause for this change was the discovery of ultramarine, which was made from lapis lazuli in a very difficult and long process. It was the most expensive color and therefore became the favorite color for royalty, showing wealth and prestige.

When cheaper alternatives were available the sacred blue became navy blue – used by authorities like the police, bankers or officials.

According to psychological research, people today connect the color blue with: masculine, competence, high quality and corporate.

Here some examples of artists who had a special love for blue:

1. Giotto di Bondone–the first Renaissance painter who used ultramarine (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, completed around 1305).

Scrovegni Chapel, by Giotto, in Padua

photo credit: Cultural Italy

2. Giovanni Bellini used ultramarine for his Madonna paintings.


photo credit: Jean Louis Mazieres

3. Claude Monet used blue pigments that were invented in the 19th century, like cobalt blue, cerulean blue and French ultramarine (‘Waterloo Bridge’, 1903).

Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, 1903


photo credit:  Public Domain

4. Van Gogh had a preference for cobalt blue and ultramarine (‘Wheat field with cypresses’, 1889).


photo credit: Ekaterina Smyshnova

“I am crazy about two colours: carmine and cobalt. Cobalt is a divine color and there is nothing so beautiful for creating atmosphere. Carmine is warm and lively as wine…the same with emerald green.”

(Vincent van Gogh)

5. Picasso reduced his color scheme to blue in his Blue Period (‘The old guitarist’, 1903).


photo credit: O Laoshi

“When I haven’t any blue I use red.”

(Pablo Picasso)

6. The artist’s group ‘Der blaue Reiter’ made ‘blue’ part of their identity. Here Franz Marc‘s ‘Blue Horse’, 1911.

Franz Marc Blue Horse

“Blue is the male principle, stern and spiritual. Yellow the female principle, gentle, cheerful and sensual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the colour which must be fought and vanquished by the other two.”

(Franz Marc)

7. Henri Matisse, Blue Nude (1907)


photo credit: Gillian Phillips

“A certain blue enters your soul. A certain red has an effect on your blood pressure.”

(Henri Matisse)

8. Marc Chagall chose blue as the main color for his stained windows of Reims (completed 1974).

vitrail chagall

photo credit: Stephane Cochin

9. Yves Klein registered the rights for his own blue (Pantone 286). Here his Blue Torso, 1962.

Yves Klein blue torso Blue PANTONE 286

photo credit: Andre Generoso

“I did not like nothing, and thus that I met the empty, the deep empty, the depth of the blue.”

Yves Klein

10. Light artist James Turrell illuminates spaces with blue (‘Enzo Blue’, 1968).

James Turrell

photo credit: wefindwilderness

Yue Minjun, Amazing laughter

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