Moderate Orange loses as Blue and Red create less diverse art

The colors of 94,526 paintings since 1800, charted
[Via Ezra Klein]

In modern art, blue may be the new orange. Martin Bellander, a PhD student in psychology at the Karolinska Institutet, created this visualization of how the most common colors used in paintings have changed since 1800. Bellander says he was inspired by data visualizations that looked at the colors in movies, by extracting colors from movie posters or trailers.

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The plot above is based on 94,526 images for the years 1800-2000. The graph shows a clear trend toward more blue paintings toward the end of the 20th Century, with all colors increasing except for orange. Bellander’s source was this BBC site that allows you to browse through more than 200,000 paintings. He then used R to scrape data from the site about each of the paintings.

Bellander considers a few explanations for the increase in blue. The most persuasive are that the aging of resins has changed the color of oil paintings over time; that the pricing of different pigments have changed over time, with blue getting less expensive; or that it represents an artistic trend in the use of color.

Bellander can’t say definitively which of these explanations is right, but perhaps Picasso’s Blue Period (1901-1904) had a much wider influence than is commonly imagined. If you’re an art or history buff, let us know what you think in the comments section.

Republished courtesy of Martin Bellander.


Interesting that our artwork has become more red and blue at the expense of orange over the last century.

At this rate, most everything will be red or blue in about 50 years. Although there may still be some green.