Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Yellow Nineties: Gleeson White

Gleeson White, quite the 90s man in so many ways, had a column in The Windsor Magazine and in 1895 he wrote this about the colour yellow, soon to become the adjective of choice for the decade he was writing in:

"The present popularity of 'yellow' as a colour is likely to be elevated to a party cry, it would seem. Because certain things - the Yellow Book, the Yellow Aster, the yellow jacket of Li Hung Chang, etc. - are much paragraphed, shall we choose yellow who like it not, or abjure it if we do? There is no doubt that as a furnishing colour it is a most useful one; with the gaiety of white it is not so impossible for use in smoky towns. It is quite true to assert that a yellow wall makes a room look twice as large as is otherwise would, and is, beside this, a pleasant background for people or pictures. But let us hope that colours will not become 'party' badges or evidence of anything beyond personal preference. It is not to many decades since yellow was in every piano-front, and in striped stuff was for the most part in very frequent use for chairs, sofas, curtains and the like. The magenta and green rep period discarded these; then the Morris blue and green, and the aesthetic low-toned shades usurped uncontrolled supremacy in the homes of people of taste.

Now yellow is welcomed, pure scarlet even is being timidly beckoned back for use in large quantities. Venturesome people are talking of rooms in pale heliotrope and plum colour, and it appears that colour chosen by the owner for his room as he likes it, may replace colour ordered accordingly to prevailing style of the moment. That such a plan will admit untold horrors is probable, but if is restores individuality and breaks up the stupid English habit of trying to make each drawing room or boudoir as much as possible like those of one's friends, it will be a change for the better."

Gleeson White's chatty little columns were called 'At Five O'clock' and were, of course, in part illustrated by his friend, the illustrator Alan Wright.

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