· By Studio
Colour Notes 10
At this time of year, it can feel easy to fall into the trap of the January blues. We're waiting impatiently for the clocks to go back, for the sun to come out for more than a few minutes, and for the undeniable joy of seeing the first spring leaves. Fortunately, we've got a little something to help you through: our wonderful Love Leaves wallpaper by William Kilburn.
Kilburn was one of the UK's leading craftsmen and most celebrated textile artists of the 18th century. The watercolour this wallpaper is based on was found in a sketchbook and is a departure from the chintz designs Kilburn was better known for.
Page from Kilburn's sketchbook, c.1800, found by descendent Gabriel Sempill.
'The later eighteenth century saw a dramatic rise in the popularity of the medium of watercolour,' writes Alexandra Loske in Colour: A Visual History. Essentially, the compact nature of a watercolour palette allowed painters to work more easily en plein air. 'While mid-eighteenth century aesthetic ideas were split between the contrasting concepts of the beautiful and the sublime, a third way later arose that sought to combine the ideals of both. This new vision of nature known as the 'picturesque' may have been made possible simply because more artists were able to paint outdoors, farther afield and in remote places.'
Artist William Gilpin offered a colour system for the picturesque, intended to show the use of colour in depicting distance. 'Gilpin's concern for colour 'chastity' and harmony is connected to picturesque ideals of a natural 'rugged' beauty,' says Loske.
It is some stroke of luck that these shades match perfectly with Kilburn's original watercolour.
Sketch from Gilpin's notebook, c.1790
The surface-printed technique of our wallpaper not only recalls the traditional woodblock printing style of the 1800s, but it reflects the repetitious cycle of nature: each season is the same, each impression slightly different. We hope it gives you even the smallest sense of optimism, serving as a reminder - even on the coldest of days - that the trees will bud again.
James Fox writes in The World According to Colour, 'Unlike most other hues, blue thrives in the unearthly realms of sky, sea and horizon. But even those fields of colour are apparitions... If we bottle the contents of a deep blue sea we will find it is largely colourless; if we travel towards a blue horizon we'll discover it isn't blue, and never was. Blue, in short, is the most elusive of colours.'
What Fox touches upon is the centuries-old mystique around the colour blue. It was historically revered as one of the most expensive pigments, owing to its difficult production method in the Middle East. 'Lapis lazuli,' Fox says, 'is created by a violent geographical process. It only occurs in areas where marble or limestone has been transformed by the extreme pressures and temperatures of intruding magma.' But, he adds, 'it was worth the effort: Italian painter Cennini considered the pigment to be 'illustrious, beautiful, and most perfect, beyond all other colours.''
Dutch Golden Age artist Vermeer utilises lapis lazuli in his work Woman Reading a Letter to create a radiant blue beddejak, or straight-sleeved garment. But moreover, the colour creates a haunting, enigmatic atmosphere. This blue paint makes a conventional scene mystical.
Woman Reading a Letter, Johannes Vermeer, c.1663. Oil on canvas.
Today, there is a glut of blue products on the market - particularly clothing, since the invention of denim. Many people consider blue to be their favourite (and safest) choice when it comes to fashion. We've come a long way from Michelangelo being unable to finish a painting because he couldn't get his hands on lapis lazuli. Blue is now universal and commonplace. But that doesn't make it any less of a rich - and varied - colour.
We use the term 'blue' to describe our mood. We feel instantly calmer when looking at a cloudless midday sky or the wide expanse of the ocean. If you were asked to picture a Greek island holiday, the image of blue-roofed Cycladic cliffside houses springs to mind. In other words, blue can be both a colour of opulence and the everyday.
In this spirit, we've selected some perfect blues to complement Kilburn's design. These are easy-to-use blues, that will add flair to your space.
Meanwhile, we turned to pinky-beiges to match with Love Leaves. Beige has an unfortunate reputation, as it's suggestive of mundanity and lack of inspiration. However, the correct shade - one that's more of a yellowy-pink - can uplift a room and provide a dependable, calm, organic feel. In fact, the word 'beige' originates from the French term for natural wool that has not been dyed or bleached - meaning it can be seen as comforting and warm.
Particularly with the recent trend for bare gypsum plaster walls, these pink tones can be easily styled and offset the pattern of Kilburn's leaves to make the wallpaper front and centre of the room. We've selected Jonquil by Edward Bulmer, JW2 by Francesca's Paints, and Griffin by Papers and Paints.
Finally, in keeping with the natural theme, we turn to brown. Brown is a composite colour made by combining three other shades - typically red, yellow and blue - which makes it an easy background colour, ready to be complemented by other tones.
Brown has been used in art since prehistoric times; cave paintings dating back to 40,000 BC use umber, a natural clay pigment. Much later, in the 17th and 18th centuries, brown was introduced into paintings to create the effect of chiaroscuro. Soil and peat contributed to the brown pigment, Cassel earth, used by Flemish painter Anthony van Dyke; in fact, he used it so much it was coined Van Dyke Brown.
For our final paint colour to match our Love Leaves, we've gone for Bitter Chocolate by Atelier Ellis - as its name suggests, this is a deliciously rich tone, reminiscent of damp earth or antique wood.
We hope this gives you some decoration inspiration. We’d love to see how you bring our wallpapers to life in your homes. Tag us on Instagram @commonroom.co, use the hashtag #mycommonroom or get in touch with images via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love Leaves by William Kilburn is also available at CommonRoom in Rose Pink & Saffron.
Words by Alice Hodgson.