In Lovely Blueness: Adventures in Troubled Light

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In 2004 Colm Toibin curated an exhibition at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin called 'Blue' which consisted of blue objects from the collection. This is his introduction to the catalogue.

Writers relished blue. Proust’s housekeeper remembered that the most striking thing in his room, apart from the cork was the colour blue. Colette and Dumas pere loved writing on blue paper. Oscar Wilde collected Blue Willow china. Alexander Theroux vies with William Gass in his efforts to list the blues: ‘There are many more blues than there are words to name them. There is smalt. Tenebristic blue. Plumbago blue has a delicate red tone to it. Phtalo, a cyanine blue, is also known in the Dutch pigment trade as Rembrandt blue. Neuwied blue is a lime blue sold in drop pigment form. And then there is a whole order of undertones. Cerulean blue. Manganese. Prussian blue…’(25) In Richard Flanagan’s novel ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’, Gould writes: ‘Blue speaks of the morning, of the sky & of the sea. Yet as the fish with their cross-weaving of colour had taught me, contained in every colour is its opposite, & blue is also the colour of sorrow & anguish & lewdness.’ (26) Albinus in Nabokov’s ‘Laughter in the Dark’ had this to say about blue: ‘I must keep quiet for a little space and then walk very slowly along that bright sound of pain, towards that blue, blue wave. What bliss there is in blueness. I never knew how blue blueness could be.’ (27) In ‘On the Spiritual in Art’, Kandinsky wrote: ‘The deeper blue becomes the more urgently it summons man towards the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity and, ultimately, for the supersensual.’ (28) In her book ‘The Listening God’ Sr Miriam Pollard wrote: ‘I used to wonder why the sea was blue at a distance and green close up and colourless for that matter in your hands. A lot of life is like that. A lot of life is just a matter of learning to like blue.’ (29)
Part of the appeal of blue was its ambiguous beauty, its various shades, its restless nuances, its strange origin and development. Blue was the banished orphan who lived to take the throne. Goethe remained puzzled and fascinated by the colour which, he wrote, ‘has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye. As a hue it is powerful, but it is on the negative side, and in its highest purity is, as it were, a stimulating negation. Its appearance, then, is a contradiction between excitement and repose.’ Blue, for Goethe, was the colour of distance. ‘As the upper sky and distant mountains appear blue, so a blue surface seems to retire from us…But as we readily follow an agreeable object that flies from us, so we love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws after us.’ And of sadness: ‘The appearance of objects seen through a blue glass is gloomy and melancholy.’(30)
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