In collaboration with the National Gallery in London whose summer show is about the history and theory of COLOUR, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen looks beneath the surface of our colour-saturated world to investigate what we're actually looking at when we see red, yellow and blue.

In the first programme he returns to a period when most people were dressed in drab dye stuffs, derived from plants, and painters had to work hard to source mineral pigments for paint.

Deep in the National Gallery, he visits senior conservator Jill Dunkerton to discuss how she goes about restoring pictures from the early Renaissance. What does she substitute for the original lapis lazuli blue found so often in pictures of the Madonna? Any why was this colour so prized by artists of this period?

Victoria Finlay has travelled the world in search of the sources of coloured minerals. She tells of searching for lapis in Afghanistan and the cochineal beetle (source for red dye) in Mexico. These were the exotic lands from which the early ingredients for pigments came.

Laurence takes his explorations forward in time to the nineteenth century when the science of colour was becoming properly understood. Professor Martin Kemp explains how the Impressionists began to imitate the effects of light reflecting off coloured surfaces onto the eye.

Ella Hendriks is a curator at the Van Gogh museum and she's in charge of preserving the colours in his paintings. She explains that the colours in his paintings are completely different to how they looked originally.

One of Laurence's final contributors is Professor Anya Hurlbert, who researches our perceptions of colour. She's interested in how we explain the way our brains can identify colours despite dramatic differences in lighting.

The programmes visit the Matisse exhibition in London, the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and the churches of Florence. As Laurence discovers, colour is much more slippery and complicated than you might think.

Producer: Susan Marling, Isabel Sutton
A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

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28 minutes

Last on

Sun 10 Aug 2014 13:30

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