GREEN color – history and values. Article by the Executive Director of RUNWAY MAGAZINE Guillaumette Duplaix.
Listen the article in English
Écouter l’article en français
GREEN is a controversial color declared by PANTONE as a color of the year 2017, which became popular only in 2021 particularly in fashion.
GREEN is associated with several superstitions. Some are very famous and survived trough the time. Do you know, for example, that in the world of theater there’s a superstition related to the GREEN color and the curtains? We will come back to that later in the article.
The chromatic field of GREEN is being between yellow and blue, it can be light, dark, etc… But it always keeps the name GREEN.
Let’s start by reproducing this color: it is difficult to make and to master.
I remember having dealt with several photographic projects about landscapes / nature composed of trees of different GREEN color. In photography GREEN is a color that dulls and fades. It was necessary to make choices and interpret these different GREENS in order to obtain a light.
RGB: 0, 128, 0 CMYK: 100%, 13%, 100%, 7% # 008000 TSL: 120%, 100% 50%
The symbolism of this color:
Instability. Representation of infidelity in some countries, jealousy and immaturity.
In the story GREEN starts its journey badly. It’s considered as a negative color which represents demons, spirits, all kinds of evil creatures.
From the XIXth century the West associated GREEN with all the symbols of hope and cleanliness. And today GREEN relates to ecology.
GREEN is the favorite color for 1 of 6 people today.
Here are the main topics of the GREEN that I will develop.
History & Symbolism of GREEN
It was not until the period after Alexander the Great that this color got its name “GREEN”.
GREEN then will assert itself in the romantic era and become the color of nature and health. Today we find GREEN in all institutions related to the planet.
Right after the GREEN has been considered in the culture it quickly took a negative reputation in relation to Christians. In middle ages GREEN was considered as the color of Satan, devil, and the strange beings: fairies, witches, goblins, genies of the woods and waters.
In the XIXth century Arthurian poem “Sire Gawain and the Green Knight” about the history of the Knights of the Round Table, we find The Greene Knight.
In the little known history about this period his real name was Bercilak de Haudesert, in the poem he was called “Bredbeddle” or The Greene Knight. In the poem “Sire Gwain and the Green Knight”, Bercilak is transformed into a GREEN Knight by the evil sorceress Morgana, an opponent of King Arthur. King Arthur and King Cornwall portray The Green Knight as an exorcist and as one of the most powerful knights in Arthur’s court.
In this poem the Green Knight is so named because of his green skin. Some see him as an incarnation of Mandragora or mandrake plant (a plant in the form of a man), a plant known since medieval art. Others see him as a figure taken from Celtic mythology, and a Christian symbol, or even the devil himself.
The GREEN superheroes, the GREEN extraterrestrials from another planet, and many other cultural characters are part of this heritage, where green plays the role of something magical and fantastic. The explanation comes from the fact that GREEN is an unstable color, very difficult to fix chemically, and that was enough for the symbolism of this color to take a negative turn.
Dante Alighieri gives a representation of it at the end of his Purgatory, in the “Divine Comedy”.
GREEN has been subjected to theatrical superstition since medieval times. The history of GREEN presents it as a color of chance. Probably due to the fact that this color is unstable in dyeing. It is also possible that some actors have been poisoned by the oxide of copper or cyanide present in green costume in medieval times.
Another addition to the GREEN color bad luck: in 1673 during a royal performance before King Louis XIVth, Molière began to cough, suffering from tuberculosis, he finished the performance but died few hours later, still in costume. Molière’s costume — the clothing that he died in — was green. And since that time, actors have maintained the superstition that it is highly unlucky to wear green while on-stage.
In XXth century the illumination did not highlight the shades of GREEN. When the first spotlight was invented for the theaters it worked by burning a chemical called quicklime. This gave it its original nickname “the limelight”. True to its name, the limelight had a greenish glow to it so if an actor wore green, he or she might not be visible when hit by the spotlight.
GREEN is a very common color in Celtic countries or regions. The panceltic flag created by Robert Berthelier in the 1950s is dominated by the color green. One of the Celtic hymns has the title “green lands” which means in French “The Countries or Green Lands”.
In the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt is implementing his “new deal” program to fight unemployment and install social security. It sets up a government agency: the WPA (Works Progress Administrative) which assigns the many unemployed to build public buildings, parks and roads.
The FAP (Federal Art Project) which is part of the WPA, employs more than 5,000 artists. As a result frescoes and canvases are installed in hospitals, post offices, libraries, and schools. Sculptures are placed in the public gardens, in order to preserve American popular culture.
Several artists benefited from the FAP and have magnificent careers. Mark Rothko, born Marcus Rothkowitz is an American painter classified among the representatives of American abstract expressionism.
Jackson Pollock is a world famous American painter of abstract expressionism. He produced more than 700 works, paintings, painted or sculpted essays and drawings as well as some engravings. He had a decisive influence on the course of contemporary art. The practice of “all-over” as well as “dripping” which he used a lot from 1947 to 1950.
Paul Cadmus, an American painter, pastellist and designer. He is famous by the series of tempera on canvas, depicting urban genre scenes. He took part of the social realist movement, mixing satire, irony, and the grotesque.
Frederick Childe Hassam, American impressionist painter of the XIXth – XXth centuries. Among his best-known works is figure “The Flag series”. It is about 30 paintings that he began in 1916, inspired by the parade of American volunteers for World War I on Fifth Avenue. The most famous painting in the series, “The Avenue in the Rain” (1917), depicting American flags and their reflections in the rain, is in the White House collection. President Barack Obama had it installed in the Oval Office from the start of his presidency.
The FAP also produced a series of posters for the WPA parks. These posters are made with shades of green, black, and blue.
This poster was produced by Richard Halfs.
The “GI Bill” is an American law of 1944 which allowed millions of veterans to have access to studies, business creation, real estate planning, etc. Real estate developers are redoubling their ideas for these potential buyers by creating the “miracle house”. The color is approached in a scientific way, a catalog of paint “The dynamics of the colors” released in 1946 praises the energy of the colors in the interior.
Around 1990, we turned more and more to nature and the term “Zen” appeared in our daily vocabulary. The world is turning to spas, massages. In 1996, the architect Peter Zumthor imposes his architecture based on a refined style, mineral colors, the others will follow.
The color GREEN is considered evil in France and the United Kingdom.
GREEN is also named to describe jealousy and envy.
It is also said that in the Middle Ages, the role of Judas was often played by an actor dressed in green.
It is believed that GREEN evokes disease and death, because it is the color of the skin of a sick person, or a corpse. GREEN skin tone is often associated with nausea and sickness.
In some cultures GREEN symbolizes hope, chance (bad or good luck), nature and growth. And at the same time it is associated with death, disease, envy, permission (even debauchery) or the devil.
GREEN & Painters
Pietro Perugino, Nativity the Lord in glory, Angels and the Annunciation.
Paolo Caliari, known as Véronèse 1528 – 1588.
Thomas Wilmer Dewing 1851 – 1938.
The Green Wheat Field with Cypress Vincent van Gogh created in 1889 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Tamara de Lempicka 1898- 1980 born in Warsaw, lived in France, in the United States, then in Mexico. Representative of the “Art Deco” movement.
Martial Raysse, French painter representative of Pop Art.
Edward Hopper, American painter. Nighthawks.
GREEN & Communication
Broadly speaking GREEN is a symbol of nature, and also the color of hope.
In our days it is often used for ecological communication, sustainable development. GREEN represents prosperity, stability and balance.
Some examples of green logos.
Reproduction of GREEN
Miche-Eugène Chevreul locates the colors in relation to the Fraunhofer lines, the typical GREEN is between the E (527 nm) and b 517 nm lines.
In the field of color vision, Miche Eugène Chevreul, director of the Gobelins factory, made a name for himself through his work on the law of simultaneous contrast of colors and the assortment of colored objects.
He is not the first to approach the effect of contrast. Before him there was Leonardo da Vinci concerning complementary colors, and Goethe came with the study “The treaty of colors”.
He showed that a color influences a neighboring color: the same tone seems lighter if it is on a darker background, the complementary ones make each other more vivid and the non-complementary colors move away in tone. Thus, a yellow placed near a GREEN seems redder, as if it had been mixed with a purple, complementary to GREEN, the same shade placed near a red will draw towards the yellow-green.
Miche Eugène Chevreul in his “Exposé” in 1861 proposed a universal classification based on a chromatic circle of 72 sectors with a regular color difference of the solid shades modified by adding white or black to the base shade to obtain one of the 20 levels, and on a foreshadowing of that of color saturation, obtained by adding black or white, a hue on a scale of 10. In total the system defines14,400 colors plus the 11 achromatic shades from white to black.
Karl Ewald Konstantin Hering was Prussian physiologist who studied mainly in the fields of vision of color and perception of space.
Karl Ewald Konstantin Hering’s color theory rooted in a psycho-physical study of color perceptions, and familiar to color practitioners, served as the basis for the color atlas of the NCS system.
According to Karl Ewald Konstantin Herin, a color locates on three axes: the value or brightness axis, between black and white, blue-yellow axis, green-red axis.
In additive synthesis one of the primary colors is GREEN with red and blue. In television and computer screens primary GREEN is a yellowish GREEN, with a dominant wavelength of around 550 nm.
Additive synthesis uses three colored lights: red, GREEN and blue (RGB for red, green, blue). The addition of these three proportionately colored lights, and gives white light. The absence of light gives black.
Television and computer screens, and projectors use the process of additive synthesis. They do not depend on outdoor lighting.
In painting we obtain a GREEN by mixing a yellow and a blue. Several mixtures are sold with terms like English GREEN, Grass GREEN, Duck GREEN, Gray GREEN, Irish GREEN, etc.
In printing subtractive synthesis uses standardized pigments. GREEN is obtained by a mixture of cyan blue and yellow. It is impossible to obtain a saturated and bright GREEN like that of screens, hence the complexity of reproducing GREEN in printing.
GREEN & Society
At the start of the XXth century GREEN has a hard time establishing itself through its bad reputation from the Middle Ages to the XIXth century, especially among women. In the Belle Époque prostitutes often wore GREEN.
The green dress is the dress worn by the members of the Institute de France, and in particular of the French Academy when they meet in formal meeting.
It was not until the end of the XXth century that GREEN took on its current meaning and became positive. GREEN is the color of nature, and acquires with the development of ecological ideas in a more political dimension. Choosing GREEN color for a logo for example is not trivial and almost always announces its intention in connection with sustainable development.
GREEN & Decoration
The discovery of a deep vivid GREEN by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1775 led to a fashion craze that lasted for over a century.
The tragedy of this story was that from the very start Carl Wilhelm Scheele knew that the pigment he had developed was highly toxic. So being in the room with the walls covered by the fabrics tainted by this toxic color, or wearing clothing from this colored fabric was literally deadly.
The lucrative allure of bringing this deadly hue to manufacturers, dyers, artists and more around the world has proven to be inescapable for Carl Wilhelm Scheele.
This period showed a very saturated GREEN called the “GREEN of Paris”. This GREEN used in upholstery, carpets, paints and inks which was used in particular to print wallpapers. And it was a problem: this dye was arsenic-based.
At the beginning of the XIXth century mostly less fortunate people bought this “toxic” wallpaper. People of all ages in good health suddenly died. The poisonings multiplied, and no one knew the reason. After years of the investigation the cause of these deaths was found in this fabric and GREEN toxic color. Despite this macabre discovery and the warning of the doctors this “GREEN of Paris” was used as dye during all the XIXth century.
GREEN & Napoleon
GREEN was Napoleon’s favorite color. The reason why we find it in Fontainebleau, Compiègne, you name it. Thanks to Napoleon GREEN knew the glory days under the name of Imperial GREEN used in decoration and fashion.
GREEN & Fashion
In 2021 the GREEN is imposed in an insolent way in street fashion, as the color that will be fluorescent and noticed. All designers offered shades of GREEN.
Is it the street which imposed the GREEN or the designers? Difficult to say, but it is a color that is clearly visible today on all looks, different styles from formal wear to street and sporty.
This is probably because GREEN inspires today more than any other color. Today wearing GREEN is inspiring and soothing.
GREEN & signage
In road and rail signage GREEN communicates the safety of a journey.
On boats and airplanes GREEN position light indicates the starboard side, as opposed to the red light indicating port side.
In the color code of electric resistors and capacitors GREEN color corresponds to the number 5, the multiplier x105 and an accuracy of 0.5 %.
In the IEC 60757 standard, it is called GN (abbreviation of GREEN).
Along with red, yellow and blue, GREEN is one of the 4 colors adopted by the European Community for selective sorting containers and bins.
This article presents this color so controversial but ultimately finding its place. We are at a time when everything is possible and well mastered.
GREEN no longer suffers from chemical or toxic errors, no longer suffers from beliefs or superstitions. But GREEN attracts or repels with as much passion as ever.
Is this good? It’s up to us to say.
Color is a concept.
The good news is that GREEN declared the Color of the Year in 2017, took its place in society in 2021, when we decided to and have the “green” meaning of life.
Guillaumette Duplaix – Color specialist – RUNWAYMAGAZINES.com
Read also “Not easy being Green – Adidas vs Nike – Marketing spoiler”, an article by Eleonora de Gray, Editor-in-Chief of RUNWAY MAGAZINE, describes the symbolism of GREEN in recent American history used today in the most successful marketing strategies.