Blue Up; Orange Down in New Paintings

STOCKHOLM -- How blue in color is the visual art of our era? Interpreting the data of 94,526 paintings created between the years 1800and 2000, Martin Bellander, a PhD student at Karolinska Institute in Sweden, discovered that blue has increased in art while orange has become less common.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are noticing subtle transitions in the color of collected new artworks.

Bellander was inspired by projects like data analyst Edmund Helmer’s 2013 look at the oranges and blues in film trailers, and relied on the BBC’s Your Paintings online database, Google Art Project, Wikiart, and museum sources to select 130,000 paintings and cut any without defined dates.

Scraping information with R statistical software, a random selection of 100 pixels was taken from each piece and graphed over time, showing the increasing dominance of the moody blue tones. The computerized visualization, shared by Bellander, is show here.

After a friend’s Tweet got some internet attention, Bellander wrote a post about the process and included his code.

He notes that there could be numerous reasons aside from artistic preference. These include the affordability and availability of blue pigments, the age of resins causing the perceived colors to change, or even the quality of the photographs.

“The changes in color might be a result of a combination of factors,” he writes. “One of these could of course be trends in the use of color. If we assume a smooth linear deterioration of certain colors in oil paintings, it would be possible to subtract that change and study the short term fluctuation in color use. For example the marked increase of blue at the time of the First World War, might actually reflect a true trend in color use.”

He adds that he’s interested in finding more details on such data as photographic quality and is welcoming suggestions in the comments on how to improve the visualization.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video demonstrates the manufacture of pigments used in oil painting, which depends upon mixing various concentrations of naturally found substances with linseed oil.