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Centuries before Pantone, a 17th century book tried to list every existing watercolor

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The ultimate guide to watercolor.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published This article is more than 2 years old.
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Two hundred and fifty years before Pantone started publishing its authoritative guide to the colors of the world, a little known Dutch artist did it first.

In 1692, A. Boogert wrote and colored a 898-page volume of 800 different colors, entirely by hand. His Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau (treaty about colors for water painting) attempted to catalog all the different shades that could be achieved with different proportions of water to pigment.

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Erik Kwakkei, a medieval book historian at Leiden University in the Netherlands who has translated parts of the book, writes on his Tumblr that the book was designed to be educational. For every color, the author starts by showing the original pigment, and then displays the results after adding “one, two or three portions of water.”

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The gorgeous manuscript is conserved in the Bibliothèque Méjanes of Aux-en-Provence, France, and can be consulted online in full, offering a unique glimpse into 17th century artist studios in a golden era for Dutch painting.

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