I went to the Netherlands - mainly to research the history of paint and the history of oil painting - with one eye open also for what might signify Dutch color. File this under "a pretty pictures travelogue."
This is my first trip to Amsterdam in 20 years, first ever to Haarlem, Antwerp and The Hague, and I found these cities to be cultivated, civilized and completely enchanting. Forget the canals, toy houses and museums - what I came away with was that the de facto densest population in Europe also has its highest "happiness rating," which is in the air.
I was struck at first how black and white everything looked both there and in my photographs, with many of these canal houses painted in black or brown-black with light trim. Then I was struck again by how that's not really true—look closer and you'll find a spectrum of saturated color that's pretty much devoid of anything garish or offensive. I'm mainly talking exteriors here, but to walk about after dark and peer into these canal houses, many seem to be converted into smart, contemporary mini-loft spaces, though I couldn't quite snap the pictures to prove so.
Of course, any discussion of Dutch color should begin with Delft Blue, that indigo used in the royal ceramic collections. I'd like to add also what I call "Memling Blue," which I kept seeing in the these early portraits by a variety of artists who developed the first artists' oil paints 500 years ago. If anyone has pictures of whole rooms painted Memling Blue please post.
And look at that pink cloud—straight out of a Vermeer!
For possible color matches, you couldn't get more Netherlandish than Fine Paints of Europe, my go-to source deep, saturated, Old World colors.
- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter