Patrick Baty’s new book The Anatomy of Color: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments (Thames & Hudson, 2017) just arrived at my summer studio. It is a glorious 350+ page tome filled with 1500+ images. Wide ranging analysis of the subject stems from Baty’s well-established practice as an Historian of architectural paint and colour as well as a consultant in the decoration and restoration of English heritage interiors. (See his website here.) This arrival has kick-started my annual late-summer enthusiasm for revising the coming semester’s design theory lectures for first year interior design students.
The book is organized chronologically – spanning dates of 1650-1830, 1830-1900, 1900-1945, and 1945-1960 – and each chapter balances decorative and technical content.
The illustrations throughout the book show an interest in interior decoration and the history of pigments. Baty clearly values historical sensitivity and decorative heritage when working with the built environment. He carefully considers publications in colour theory that appeared during the time periods studied in order to track links between intellectual developments and decorative application. He also reproduces illustrations from decorating manuals and paint catalogues in order to represent application. It is his wonderful photos of preserved and restored interiors, however, that cement one’s interest in well-researched and described historical colour.
In addition to discussing artistic and sociological topics related to the use of colour in interiors, this study covers trade-based concerns, such as: an overview of traditional paints and pigments; historical practices of the English house-painter and the paint & colour makers that supported this trade; the 19th century introduction of scientific study of colour systems; technical development of paints and pigments; and mid-20th century development of colour standards in the built environment as supported by government and industry.
Baty brings an authentic technical focus to his subject. In his own practice Baty relies on forensic paint analysis (which he points out is a branch of archaeology) to gather evidence about historic decorative schemes, and emphasizes the importance of a well-researched knowledge of colour when working with historic buildings. This technical focus is revealed in a selection of titles from Baty’s previous publications, including articles such as: “The Role of Paint Analysis in the Historic House” in The Journal of Architectural Conservation (March 1995); and “Exterior Colour on the Smaller Town House” in Materials & Skills for Historic Building Conservation (Blackwell, 2008).
The Anatomy of Color: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments contributes a much-needed body of scholarship and evidence to the study of architectural paint and colours. This attractive publication will surely popularize the topic beyond trade-only exposure. As evidence-based design is increasingly forming the core of professional interior design education, I am looking forward to sharing this research with my students.
Object image: Karen R. White. Inside Images: Courtesy of Thames & Hudson