Pioneering colour text rediscovered after 100 years

Here at The Chromologist we often feature books about the theory of colour, whether they are created from the perspective of the artist, or the decorator. Our latest discovery is something special – a tome on colour theory written by a female artist, academic and historian more than 100 years ago, which is finally getting a new lease of life.


Emily Noyes Vanderpoel (1842-1939) was a pioneering artist working at the dawn of the 20th century. Working primarily with watercolors and oils, she was vice president of the New York Watercolor Club, founded in response to the refusal by the American Watercolor Society to accept women as members. Her book, Color Problems: A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color, was presented as a painting guide for artists working in the female-friendly areas of flower painting and the decorative arts, but its innovative approach, focusing on the experience of colour and harmony, can be seen as a precursor to many trends in art and colour theory that crystallised much later.


The book centres around an innovative grid system for analysing the colour make-up of various objects or scenes, many of them based on items of decoration and ceramics in which Vanderpoel was an expert. From Persian rugs to a teacup and saucer, the grids are at once both analytical and poetic, drawing attention to both the actuality of a scene but also its imaginative effect on the viewer. They look to this day startlingly modern, prefiguring both mid-century design principals and Modernism by decades.



Emily Noyes Vanderpoel

The author at her apartment, courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society

Despite its calibre and charm, the book was largely forgotten… until now. A new edition, combining current digital technology and archival printing methods, has been created as a collaboration between The Circadian Press and Sacred Bones Records, bringing the text to a whole new generations of creatives.


Color Problems is a joint publication between The Circadian Press and Sacred Bones Records

Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

The Chromologist 2019 | Farrow & Ball

The Chromologist