Review of ‘The World According to Colour: A Cultural History’ by James Fox

What are colours? What do they mean to different cultures? How is the symbolism, perception and manufacture of colours entwined with human history? This is a fascinating book which takes us on a journey through seven colours: black, red, yellow, blue, white, purple and green. Although not a comprehensive book on the subject, it’s wide-ranging, with a strong focus on art history but also with some psychology, linguistics, literature, science, religion and social studies. The narrative is supported by many quotes on colour. Some of the information wasn’t new to me – particularly the chapter on purple – as I’ve read a few books about colour before, but I still learned a lot. The author, art historian James Fox, presented a BBC TV series in 2012 called A History of Art in Three Colours (these were white, blue and gold) which I remember enjoying.

The coverage is to some extent the author’s personal choice and I think he assumes the reader knows a little art history already. I liked the attention given to particular artists, such as Turner, Yves Klein, Kandinsky, Monet, Ana Mendieta and Le Corbusier. At times the writing with more of a scientific focus was a little dry and I had to skim-read. The art-focused sections were the most captivating for me. I would say that the chapters on red and white are not for the faint-hearted, dealing respectively with blood and racism.

The text refers to images, which I mostly haven’t seen as they weren’t included in my advance copy, but they sound well-chosen and will make the published book something special.

Thank you to Penguin for the copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on 26th August.

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