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Colour and Meaning

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The illustration above shows the Kemp-Prossor 'Colour-Cure' Ward at the McCaul Hospital, Welbeck Street, London, around the time of the First World War. Its 'Firmament Blue' ceiling and 'Sunlight Yellow' walls were intended to alleviate the sense of confinement that shell- shock patients might experience. As John Gage points out in this follow- up to his acclaimed Colour and Culture (1994), the medical profession in the uk has remained sceptical about the therapeutic potential of such decorative schemes and hence there has been little modern research into the physiological effects of exposure to colours.

Gage only touches on this in passing. Colour and Meaning is a miscellany of essays and papers written over the last 30 years, given some cohesion by being ordered chronologically around art-historical topics and figures: Byzantine mosaics, Inca textiles, Newton's colour-circle, Seurat's pointillism, Matisse's use of black.

In an erudite but accessible way - and conscious that there is 'a universally impoverished vocabulary ' for describing its nuances - Gage shows how the understanding of colour is always culturally based and that its science is provisional. His well-illustrated book should stimulate readers to observe, interpret and employ it more acutely.

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