Colour Ranges

Mar 25th, 2009 | | Colour Ranges | 2 Comments

1960s Paint Colours

1960s decoration often featured an accent wall


One of the joys of working as a colour consultant is the enormous variety of projects that one is asked to assist with. Some years ago I was commissioned to investigate the paint colours employed in the Royal Festival Hall, on London’s South Bank, when it was first built in 1951.

Using cross-sectional paint analysis I was able to establish how the various surfaces had been painted. However, a number of questions were also raised – why were the side walls on the ground floor green at one end and red at the other? What about the dark chocolate brown used in the same area?

Patrick Baty was initially surprised to find the juxtaposition of complementary colours in the 1951 scheme

A total of nine different colours was found on the various surfaces examined on the six floors. These were soon identified as colours that appeared in a paint range that was produced in 1955, but this was four years after the hall was built. Why had these colours been selected and where had they come from? The next phase of the research focused on this aspect.

Eventually I was able to demonstrate the indirect influence of Le Corbusier on a pair of young British architects and from them to the team working on the Festival Hall. Read the story of the Royal Festival Hall colours.

1950s Paint Colours
In the early 1950s various organisations set to work on a range of paint colours that was eventually released by the British Standards Institute as BS 2660: 1955 Colours for Building and Decorative Paints. A description of this process can be found here: The 1955 British Standard range.

The range found immediate favour with a great many architects and designers, and gradually, in an unpremeditated manner, as a colour coordinator of manufactured goods. The potential for rational use of colour was examined in many articles in professional and trade publications at the time, several of which were illustrated with images of the compositions of the Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian. Such influence can be seen clearly in the elevations of the Golden Lane Housing Estate, in London (built in two phases between 1957 and 1962), on which he carried out the paint analysis some years ago.

British Standard 2660 Colour Range

1960s Paint Colours
By the 1960s it was clear that there were a number of deficiencies and gaps within the range and a few of the more enterprising companies started to develop their own paint ranges which reflected the colours used in the wallpaper, curtains and upholstery of the time. The influence of Pop and Op Art, as well as peasant culture were becoming clear in designs of the middle of the decade.

My father, Robert Baty, opened Papers and Paints a small paint shop in Chelsea in 1960. 2010 was our fiftieth year of trading. He was one of those who found the British Standard colour range too limiting and was one of the first in the country to adopt the Robbialac Colorizer system. This offered an extra few hundred colours, which was initially thought to be all that would be needed. However, it wasn’t long before yet more colours were sought. Because of the demand for custom colours he began to colour match samples brought in to the shop. I have extended the service and will now measure surfaces and objects on a client’s own premises – see Colour Surveys.

I was very lucky to inherit the early records of the company, including formulations and colour cards from those early days. This archive has proved invaluable in providing source material for a recent commission. For more than a decade Papers and Paints have been producing colour ranges for Ressource, a French paint company, for sale in mainland Europe. Although I’m not entirely sure about the description of my as un Britannique excentrique (!) there has been a certain amount of coverage in the French Press.

It was inevitable that, having been commissioned to supply them with a tailored range of 1950s colours Papers and Paints should be asked to look at the 1960s.

Further Sources of 1960s Paint Colours
Although most of my work as an architectural paint researcher has focused on 18th and 19th century decorative schemes, nearly every paint sample that has been taken also displays paint layers from the late 20th century. For example, the cross section below, from Culzean Castle, shows a variety of recent colours.

Cross section of paint layers on an outbuilding at Culzean Castle

Research has shown that the 1955 British Standard range continued in use throughout the 1960s, but that colours of the sort shown here saw use in fashionable quarters:

From the 1960s paint colours produced by Papers and Paints (1)

From the 1960s paint colours produced by Papers and Paints(2)

From the 1960s paint colours produced by Papers and Paints(3)

Further thoughts on the use of these colours can be seen here.

We are currently looking at the colours of the 1970s and 1980s.

Papers and Paints can be found here:

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Comments (2)

Patrick GoffNo Gravatar » 22. Dec, 2010

I recognise now, reading this article, how much the colour palett of the 1960′s was set by those colour cards.

I was an art student from 1965 – 70 (vintage years) and looking back I can see how my own personal palette and that of artists like Riley were influenced by these charts.

Incidentally did you know that early Hockneys etc are fading becasue paint manuacturers said that the commercial acrylic paints were colour fast, and many artists of the time sed white acrylic emulsion as a primer for oils and acrylics, not reaising that the white pigment used was not colour fast, leading to top colours greying over time?

Interesting stuff, you have a fascinating job

PatrickNo Gravatar » 22. Dec, 2010

Yes. You are absolutely right. Some years ago I worked with Jo Crook and Tom Learner of the Tate on a book that they were writing on “The Impact of Modern Paints”. They alerted me to the problems of some of the early acrylics.