A Brief History of Blue

When it comes to colour there is so much that a specific colour, or even a specific shade, can invoke. And that is why it is easy to understand why painters and artists have always gone to great lengths to create and use colours in their work.

While blue is easily seen in the sky and the water, blue has actually traditionally been one of the more difficult colours to procure and create. So in this blog let’s delve right into the fascinating history of the colour blue in art.

Egyptian Blue

Unlike many of the pre-industrial pigments and paints, blue was not as easy to produce as those colours which were found naturally and abundantly in materials such as clay. In fact, it wasn’t until the ancient Egyptians came along that the first permanent blue pigment was created.

Generally considered to be the first synthetically produced colour, the process for making blue was complicated, and advanced for the time! Made from mixing ground limestone and a mineral containing copper and heating them to extremely high temperatures, the resultant glass had to be crushed and formed into a paste to create a usable pigment. The colour was highly prized, and often used in ceramics, statures, and even tombs.


Lapis Lazuli stones

Once again, we begin with the Egyptians, who imported the vibrant blue gemstone Lapis Lazuli. However in this case, they were unable to successfully make a usable pigment from it.

Because of this, it was reserved only for the most prestigious of commissions, such as Gérard David’s Virgin and Child with Female Saints. Ultramarine would later become more affordable, with the invention of synthetic ultramarine by a French chemist in 1826.


The quintessential sky blue cerulean is undoubtedly one of the most ubiquitous blue pigments to be found in paintings. Despite this the pigment itself wasn’t commonly available until 1860, when it was sold under the name coeruleum.

Prussian Blue

As proof that the best discoveries often come about by chance, Prussian blue was discovered accidentally by a German dye maker who was actually trying to create a new shade of red, only to contaminate his materials with animal blood, producing a vibrant blue shade!

As a deliberately manufactured pigment, Prussian blue holds a pivotal place in art history, having been used by Pablo Picasso during his Blue Period, and by Katsushika Hokusai for his famous piece “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”

“The Great Wave off Kanagawa”

International Klein Blue

And now we move into the modern era, with International Klein Blue, named after its creator, artist Yves Klein. Made by Klein as an attempt to develop the purest representation of the colour of the sky, IKB is a matte variation of ultramarine, with a deep hue that would become Klein’s signature and used in over 200 pieces.

The history of colour is a fascinating thing, as is being able to experiment with different hues, representations, and the feelings it can evoke. This sense of play and wonder is crucial to art, and to my classes—and if you’re interested, check out our schedule and book your place today!

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