Have you ever wondered where color comes from? Who is in charge? And who gets to name all of the colors? I wonder this all of the time when I am looking at paint colors and all of the interesting names they are called. Well, today we are going to find out.
Begun in the early 20th century by Edward Waldo Forbes, director of the Fogg Art Museum, the Forbes Pigment Collection is housed under the greater umbrella of The Straus Center for Conservation and Technical studies at Harvard Art Museums — the United States’ oldest fine arts research, training, and conservation facility. Forbes would collect his samples from his travels all over the world, bringing back pigments from excavated sites at Pompeii to rare lapis lazuli found in Afghanistan.
By the 1920s, Forbes had amassed containers of deep blues, rich purples, vibrant yellows, and myriad other colors from his travels to Europe and the Far East. Through the years, word of mouth helped the collection to grow as other art lovers and experts donated their own pigments.
Though growing all the time, today’s Forbes Pigment Collection comprises a technicolor array of 2,500 samples, arranged most pleasingly by color. Displayed in little jars, the pigments mimic artists’ color wheels in 3D, morphing from purple to red to yellow to blue and back to purple again along the cases’ shelves.
If you can’t make it to the floor-to-ceiling display of pigments in Cambridge, you can see an electronic directory of these materials through the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s Conservation & Art Materials Encyclopedia Online (CAMEO) database. Next time you are in Boston, stop by and take a look.