10 Color Palettes Based on Famous Paintings

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When creating a Pinterest inspiration board for my branding projects, I like incorporating some art pieces. Studying old masters is a long-used method for learning and building your artistic skills and they're a great source of inspiration.

In that manner, I decided it might be helpful to take ten famous paintings and focus on their use of color and see how masters put together cohesive and expressive palettes so you can implement similar strategies into your brand's color palette.


Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Raphael

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What I love about Raphael's color palettes is his use of red and blue. It allows him to use strong colors without evoking strong emotions because the warm and cool colors are balancing each other out. That, combined with the supporting earthy hues create an eye-catching yet stable and grounded palette.


Great Wave Off Kanagawa (Kanagawa Oki Nami Ura) by Hokusai

In contrast, Hokusai leans heavily on blues and grays in his famous woodcut print to create a moody and cool palette. Yet, you will notice, he uses warmer grays and a cream sky to keep the art from feeling monotone or cold.

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Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer 

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Vermeer uses a high contrast palette to bring focus to certain areas of the painting. The bright whites of the eyes, the collar, and the pearl earring pop against the dark colors and bring focus to the feminine features of the girl. Similarly, red is used only of the lips - drawing your eyes in to the rich color that contrasts with the muted and cool tones in the rest of the painting.


L Etoile by Edgar Degas

Degas starts with a very muted and earthy palette, but brings in some softness and femininity with the blush pink dress of the main figure and the dusty blue shadows. The blending of warmth, earth tones and feminine colors creates a gentle and welcoming feeling.

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The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

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In possibly the most famous painting of all time, Leonardo da Vinci sticks to a strictly earthtone color palette. Using a muted and neutral color palette allows the subtle detailing and rich depth to be the star of the show. He also uses faded earth tones as the backdrop, bringing the rich, deep colors of the central figure to the stand out.


Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Starry Night has a color pallette that feels surprising modern. Vincent van Gogh stuck to a heavily cool-tone color palette and added an accent of bright yellow to pop out and add contrast and cheer to the backdrop backdrop. All of the colors he uses are rich and vibrant, adding energy to the painting.

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Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

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Hopper uses deep, bold colors to set a moody tone. It's night in the city - dark streets, rich colors from signs in shadow, all punctuated by bright pools of yellow light coming from lively bars and restaurants. The rich colors make us feel sophisticated - the pop of yellow speaks of excitement and anticipation.


The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

Klimt uses a muted color palette and low contrast to build a soft, intimate feeling while still using a wide range of colors. Using two tones of muted yellow as the foundation makes the blues, purples, reds, and greens pop out from the background without being too vibrant or dark.

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The Nightwatch by Rembrandt

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In his classic painting filled with detail and depth, Rembrant uses two colors to bring focus in the chaotic composition. Cream is used to draw your eye first - to the two men in the front, then the woman in the midground. Then, our eyes are drawn to the splashes of red in the supporting figures. The rest of the painting pulls back in the dark tones.


The Scream by Edvard Munch

Munch uses bright, contrasting colors to heighten emotions. Pairing bright reds and oranges with sickly greens makes us feel uneasy and as if something is wrong.

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Thanks for Reading!

Just as these masters used color to add depth to their visual stories, so can you in choosing your brand colors. Though I wouldn't suggest implementing Munch's colors unless you're selling Halloween gear...


Next week

A case study involving magic and mail.