Color With Conscience

It all began as these things always do, with a post by fellow blogger, Lisa Borgnes Giamonti of A Bloomsbury Life, asking her readers to use a bit of imagination in naming an illusive color that is often seen, but never clearly delineated as a customized color of its own repute. There seemed little disagreement that this puzzling color falls somewhere in the palette of greys, beiges, and greens, but beyond that rather ill-defined and nebulous description, it is downright bewildering to assign a proper name to a blend that is the embodiment of well … ambiguity.

As Lisa explains:

“It’s not gray or blue or green, but a strange and mystifying combination of all three. It changes color depending on the light and the hues which surround it. It can appear slightly sulky, calm and relaxing, or intensely introspective.

Note: It’s not greige. Greige is grey meets beige and this color is much more layered than that. And it’s not eau de nil or chalk or grey threadbare velvet (although that’s getting closer).”

For the uninitiated, greige ( gra, grège, gray), in addition to being a color blending gray and beige, is also defined as not bleached or dyed; unfinished; raw.

The Bloomsbury Life post was thoughtfully curated, as oft it is, with radiant samples [For all, see here.] Or to submit your own ingeniously titled appellation, go here.

For example, this illustrious painting by T. F. Simon, “Windy Beach on Normandy”, 1924.



Or this work by Otto Dix who painted himself in a suit of understated elegance and unnamed color in the aptly titled homage “To Beauty”, 1922.



Or this delicately conceived masterpiece from the famed John Singer Sargent, who employed the deftness of brush strokes to embroider circular patterns of this baffling color into the weave of the rug in “Daughters of E. D. Bolt”, 1882.



While readers proffered all sorts of poetic assignations (“Being and Nothingness”, “Dust”, “November”) recalling images of overcast skies, doves and clapboard shutters in old farmhouses, it was a comment from Lynn Rutter of the beautifully fashioned The Ornamentalist that caught my eye. She told of a color put out every year, a “wonderful paint” she called it, embracing “all colors together and no color at all” from Gamblin oils called “Torrit Grey”. Yet, what truly piqued my interest in this paint color and this company was its uncommonly altruistic philosophy.



This richly imbued shade is not merely the result of a blend, which is an enthralling hue to be sure, but possesses a quality of impermanence as well, rendering it different year after year, all due to a rarely adopted, but life-affirming process, of creation as though it were spawned from a mega mogul with a conscience. It is best summed in Gamblin’s philosophy:


“Pigment dust
should not
go into
the earth,
or landfill,
but into


Subsequently, every spring, Gamblin Artists Colors collects a wealth of pigments from their Torit® Air Filtration system that has accrued around the areas where dry pigments are handled so that workers are not exposed to pigment dust. Rather than sending any of the high quality, expensive pigments into the landfill, Gamblin has wisely chosen to recycle them into a signature color cleverly called “Gamblin Torrit Grey”.

What could be more dazzling than a newly created shade that is always unique, never repeated, due to the differing mix of pigments. Torrit Grey tends to have a greenish tinge because of the great strength of the Phthalo Green pigment, which is a dark bluish green and is said to vary from a medium dove grey to a dark earthy grey.

So popular is the concept, philosophy and color, that Gamblin is now dating the tubes, so artists can collect them from year to year and enjoy the unique qualities of each edition.

The Torrit Grey promotion, which runs each year through the end of April in celebration of Earth Day, not only recycles pigment dust into paint but focuses artists on the importance of recycling, studio and environmental safety.

For those artists who wish to learn more about the competition, guidelines can be found here, although haste is required since the deadline is April 15. View former winners from years past, here or request a complimentary 37ml tube of Torrit Grey here.


2009 First Prize: Autumn Stillness – Renato Muccillo


For those desiring a full education on the complexities and nuances of color, you will want to view this extraordinary video “Navigating Color Space,” a Multi-Dimensional Approach to Color Mixing by master Robert Gamblin.





Paintings: Via A Bloomsbury Life
Photography and Color Charts: Gamblin Oil Colors, Portland, OR




~ by eaesthete on 04/11/10.

5 Responses to “Color With Conscience”

  1. Your readers might be interested in Erica Hirshler’s recent book “Sargent’s Daughters”. Not only does she tell the history of Sargent’s painting, she tells what the Boit girls did when they grew up. Curiously, none of them ever marrried, but they didn’t need to.

    • Jane,

      Wonderful recommendation — thank you! It appears on Amazon as a solid four star read. Published late last year, its full title is “Sargent’s Daughters: The Biography of a Painting“, by Erica E. Hirshler.

      As one reader astutely noted:

      “Anyone who has seen this painting has undoubtedly been affected by the almost sinister dark shadows which nearly engulf two of the four girls, and the odd, off-balance placement of the figures in a somewhat bare, large room, the foyer of the Boits’ home in Paris in the late 1880’s. Ms. Hirshler presents the sometimes sad and strange history of the Boit family, American ex-pats who spent most of their lives in Europe (like Sargent and many others) but always called Boston “home”. It is a history that reads like a Henry James novel – indeed, James was a close friend of both the Boits and Sargent – and Hirshler provides us with the fascinating background of the times, the changing state of art, and the intimate details of the lives of four little girls whose images were captured in oils by one of the most acclaimed painters in Paris at the time.”

  2. Fascinating!!!

  3. Another great example is Marie Antoinette’s dress in her portrait by Vigee Le Brun in 1785.

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