Life is full of colour. While colours are fascinating and eye-catching, they often also have deeper meaning. Our favourite colours betray our personalities. The process of transforming the original Tintin stories from black and white into colour was a veritable adventure in itself. Are you ready for a journey through the rainbow?
The colours of the rainbow
Mankind has been intrigued by colour ever since the dawn of mankind itself. It is already a long time ago that man discovered that white light, as it arrives from the Sun, could be split into distinct colours. People noticed that showers of rain are often followed by what we now call rainbows. Over the years, many legends have sprung up about this fascinating atmospheric phenomenon. For example, it is said that at the end of each rainbow there sits a pot of gold. The problem is that the end of the rainbow has never been found! When light from the sun hits a prism of glass, the white light disperses into a group of colours that painters, notably, try to reproduce in their paintings. There are primary colours such as blue, yellow and red. All the other colours represent shades or mixtures of these primary colours. Colours have been the basis of famous jokes. Invited to present a canvas at an annual art exhibition in Paris, at the beginning of the twentieth century, French writer Alphonse Allais brought a canvas filled with red. In front of the perplexed organisers, he announced the title of his work: 'A meeting of apoplectic cardinals in a ripe tomato field on the shores of the Red Sea'!
Do colours talk?
The poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1981) was 17 years old when, in 1871, he wrote the Vowel Sonnet. Vowels A, E, I, O and U were linked to colours:
Each of these vowels was given a meaning based on the colours that Rimbaud accorded them. I, being red, is an aggressive vowel, as Rimbaud saw red as a symbol of drunkenness, madness and blood, but also of thundering laughter. Red is therefore a colour of total excess. Yes colours speak! Offering red roses to a lady lets her know of the violent passion that she inspires. On the other hand, white roses insist on the purity and innocence of feeling. You can express a multitude of subtle feelings by mixing up coloured flowers!
Do you know that...
... blue is the colour of the sky. What does this mean? Peace, elegance and harmony.
... yellow is the colour of the love of life: joy, openness and freedom.
... red is the colour of the will: vitality, dynamism and fantasy.
... green is the colour of harmony: modesty, nature and relaxation.
... orange is the colour of good humour: warmth, conviviality and strength.
... brown is the colour of agreement: patience and practicality.
... violet is the colour of mystery: creativity, sentimentality and extravagance.
Colours in history
Under the Roman Empire, a sign of the emperor's power was his red cape. Red was a sign of power and supremacy. Why? Because red is the colour of blood. Dressing himself in crimson robes, the emperor proudly displayed the fact that he belonged to an imperial bloodline, but also that he held absolute power. The robes of the kings of France were blue. This was the colour of the sky (without clouds!), in which divinities floated about. As the French king represented God on Earth, it was therefore normal that he was dressed in blue. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church attributed the colour yellow to Judas, who was the archetypal traitor. Why? Yellow was a poor imitation of gold, a colour that was reserved for God. Russian icons portray Jesus as being surrounded with gold. Throughout many periods of history the Jews were obliged to wear various items of clothing to make sure that they were easily identifiable. The Nazis used the colour yellow when they created the star that Jews were forced to wear pinned to their clothes. For 6 million of these unfortunate people, the yellow star would mark them out as victims of the biggest crime in the history of humanity...
Hergé's use of colour
In 1942, Hergé's publisher decided to re-publish all the Tintin books in a new 62-page colour format. Why? Ever since 1930 (the date of the first appearance of the book of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), all Tintin's adventures were published in black and white and stretched to around 120 pages long. During World War II (1939-1945) paper became a scare commodity. The move to a 62-page format was partly a response to these paper shortages. The price of the books also went up between 1930 and 1940: they cost the equivalent of about £40 today! So as to keep up with the times and not to let their readers down, Casterman decided to publish the books in colour. All the preceding albums (apart from Tintin in the Land of the Soviets) were coloured and put into the new 62-page colour format.
Is white a colour?
Discussions about this subject are never-ending! So as not to offend anyone, let's just say that white becomes a colour when it is opposed to black and to other colours. Hergé proved himself to have mastered the equilibrium between black and white, in his book Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1929). Certain art specialists see the influence of expressionism - extremely popular in the between-war period of the twentieth century - in Hergé's work. From 1942, Hergé gave the responsibility of colouring his work to a team of assistants who, over the years, grew to become Studios Hergé. A colour chart was established: Captain Haddock's jumper was always the same shade of blue, to give an example. In Tintin in Tibet the colour white almost became a character in itself, through the Tibetan mountain sequences. So it would perhaps be a bit hasty to say that white is not a colour!
What are your favourite colours?
Studies have been undertaken to establish the preferred colours of people worldwide. There is not much difference between the continents:
40% of Europeans prefer blue, compared with 37% of Americans and 38% of Asians.
Red is the favourite colour of 19% of Europeans and North Americans, while 25% of Asians like the colour and 26% of Latin Americans prefer it.
Green: 18% of Europeans and 15% of Asians have green as their preferred colour.
Yellow: 11% of Europeans, Asians and Americans prefer this colour.
Brown is the favourite colour of 7% of people in the world.
Orange: 6% of Europeans and Asians like orange, while 2% of Americans prefer it.
Violet: 6% of Europeans and 1% of Asians and Americans prefer this colour.
What is your favourite colour? Join in the referendum: Vote now!