Seeing colour

Today I’ve been in a world of Technicolor at Polesden Lacey, writing the text for a display in our grounds this autumn which looks at colour in our collections. Timed to coincide with the riot of colour that is autumn in the estate and gardens, it involves about eight very large blown up photographs of colourful items from the collection set around the grounds.

We actually conceived the idea before the National Gallery’s ‘Making colour’ exhibition was announced, but it is a nice coincidence that our little display will coincide so nicely with a national block buster. The exhibition is made up of photographs by Eddie Hyde, one of our wonderful volunteer photographers, and features pieces he was inspired to photograph due to their strong colour. Writing the text for the exhibition has given me the chance to examine again all the varied forms colour takes within Polesden’s diverse and high quality collection. With my ‘colourful eyes’ on I find I am seeing new details and new interest in our collections. So here’s a quick roundup on some of the ‘primary’ (pun intended) colours in the collection.

Glittering Gold – With our collection of glittering Italian religious works there is plenty of glitter and gold to choose from. Our Italian Byzantine triptych with its rich golden background and highlights features in the display. The use of gold leaf in this piece from the 1300s did make me look at other items in our collections and their depiction of gold. By the time our Dutch masters were painting gold they had ceased using the real thing, as Leon Battista Alberti commented in 1435/6, ‘There is more admiration and praise for the painter who imitates the rays of gold with colour[…]in a flat panel with a gold ground[…]some planes shine where they ought to be dark and are dark where they ought to be light.’ In Gerard ter Borch’s Unknown man, painted more than two hundred years after Alberti made that comment, the gold watch shimmers convincingly as a 3D metallic object but is really just yellow, brown and white paint.

gold byzantine/ italian alterpiece

Gold Byzantine/Italian altarpiece (c.1315-20)

Detail of watch painted in oils

Detail of watch painted in oils from ‘Unknown man’ by Gerard ter Borch (c.1675)

Shimmering pink -Our Dutch old master collection is represented in the display by a particular favourite of mine, Frans van Mieris The Artist as Virtuoso at his Easel: Self-portrait. Here a pink satin sleeve is a master class in how to create the illusion of real materials and textures through the application of varying shades of colour.

Frans van Mieris, The Artist as Virtuoso at his Easel: Self-portrait

Frans van Mieris, ‘The Artist as Virtuoso at his Easel: Self-portrait’ (1667)

Garish green – Our majolica collection at Polesden is one of our greatest treasures; not to everyone’s taste, its vibrant colour was one of the elements most prised by its renaissance owners. Eddie’s shot of one of our majolica birds is one of the star images from the display. The vibrant copper of the green glaze comes across so well in all its eye-popping glory.

Maiolica bird, c.1570. in vibrant colours

Maiolica bird, c.1570. copyright Eddie Hyde

The Polesden Lacey outdoor photography display will run throughout September 2014. Standard admission charges apply. For more information visit


2 thoughts on “Seeing colour

    • Thanks Lynette, it’s been fun looking at the collection from a particular perspective. We do have some stunning and interesting uses of colour in the collection. Lauren and Eddie at Polesden have been doing a great job pulling the exhibition together, hopefully it will offer something a bit different to our visitors this autumn.

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