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Purple – It’s More Than a Color
Ninth Musing

by Ms. Terious

I admit to being a porphyrophile – a person who loves the color purple. Purple is hard to explain. Isaac Newton doesn’t mention it as a color of the rainbow and it doesn’t even have its own wavelength of light as it is not on the visible spectrum of colors. Some people may argue that violet is just another name for purple but many of us just do not buy into that idea – violet is violet and purple – well purple is many things!

Purple was first conceived by the Phoenicians and was named porphyra for the Tyrian Purple dye created in the city of Tyre in Lebanon. Extracted from the mucous of the murex shellfish and difficult to create, it was a rarity that it could only be afforded by kings and emperors.

It is the color of wealth, grandeur, creativity, mystery, wisdom, spirituality, and magic. No wonder artists love it.  Purple is created from various amounts of red and blue that are sometimes mixed with a bit of white or black to create different variations of the color.

Let’s step back for a minute to the musing which discussed Feng Shui. Red is a color of extreme energy and blue is a color of calmness and serenity. This means that in Feng Shui and its rule of creating balance from the tension of opposites, purple does that by creating a third feeling that is extremely energetic and at the same time it is calm and soothing. This third feeling is one of balance.

What color comes to mind when you think about the color purple? Is it a blooming lilac tree which scents the entire area, is it a field of lavender, a growth of iris, or a bouquet of mallow flowers which are called mauve in French. Maybe you picture an evening sky at the last moments of sunset or the richness of a coronation robe worn by a king, or maybe even the purple robes often worn by church officials during the Lenten season. Each one is quite different but they are all the color purple.

In art, purple is used to create many different feelings and also to assist in bringing together various energies in the artwork.

Consider this painting that is bold and energetic with a main focus of orange and yellow sunflowers. That is what draws you in and then you linger to feel the calmness of the blue flowers, the green leaves, and finally the many different shades of purple used in the background that bring this painting together into a cohesive balanced whole.

The two small paintings of purple iris and pansy create vibrant paintings that showcase an abundance of energetic yellow coloring which makes them stand out against the pale green backgrounds. These small paintings create energetic interest. Compare that to the watercolor of iris in a glass pitcher sitting on a blue cloth. The yellow portion of the iris’s centers is more subtle and the background of this painting created in white, blue and gold bring the iris to a serene level and would add to a calm feeling in any room. Note the difference in the purple shades of these examples of iris and how the use of the color in different dimensions gives a different feeling.  



Contemplate this painting of pansies. Here the purple colors make up the edges and the centers of the flowers with white dominating the grouping of the flowers. The white in this instance aids the forming of the pansies causing the purple edges to pop, you feel as if you can touch them. The green leaves peeking through and even the small amount of blue window framing behind add balance. This watercolor is matted with a mauve mat and the wood frame has an almost burgundy cast to it. The feeling I derive from this painting is one of cheerfulness.

In the abstract shown below the purple acts differently in creating the painting narrative. The shade of purple used here has much more reddish tint in it and along with the orange and the brush and marking strokes used create a painting with a lot of energy and movement. The blue and green colors used along with the paler purple framing surround this energetic painting with balance.

Although purple is used sparingly in these paintings, they create an interesting pairing juxtaposing a mysterious black landscape calmed by blue with a hint of purple which draws you in as you look for a bright soothing spot. The cityscape beams with yellow outlined buildings with hints of blue and purple to create a vibrant, almost pulsing city.

Purple used in waterscapes and landscapes add another dimension or depth to the water and with the large expanses of blue and green, this painting creates a calm and meditative feeling. The lighter purple inner frame draws attention to the deeper purple water you may not have noticed right away. Another painting uses purple in a different way, this time in a lighter hue on the water and the clouds to bring lightness to this painting, contrasting the deep green of the trees and land.

A lovely view of Harrisburg’s Walnut Street bridge uses pale purple to create shadows in the water and in the sky creating a sense of peacefulness and a message that ‘all’s right with the world.’

A woodland painting uses a very subtle purple color to create a path that beckons you to follow it. It draws you in and you may imagine something magical and spiritual as you follow this path deeper.  The winter forest scene hints at purple with the deep purple-colored trees. The mauve matting assists in drawing your attention to the trees. One can almost feel the calmness.

Although the peaches in this dish are a sun-kissed orange the artist brought prominence to them by placing them in a blue bowl and using a subtle purple to create shadows. By adding a light purple mat with a brilliant teal frame, the perfect tension of energetic and calm colors creates a balance that will most certainly make you feel happy.

A field of lavender draws you in and upwards with highlights of mauve in the bushes and sky. The subtleness of the value of purple used in this artwork creates a perfect quietness. 

These are just a few examples of purple in our world of art. Sit back, relax, grab a glass of Zinfandel to go with the eggplant parmesan, listen to Prince singing Purple Rain and contemplate the color purple in all of its glory.

Paintings by the following artists: Linda Williard, Susan Getty, Jeannine Swartz, Gail Walden Coleman, Peg Belcastro, Sten, Karen Ferrick, Susan Benigni Landis, Stuart Leask, and Debbie Thompson. Stop by The Smith Gallery & Fine Custom Framing, view the paintings pictured in this musing, speak with the knowledgeable personnel and decide if purple will become part of the color palette in your home and view our ArtTalks videos for conversations with artists.


The Tenth Muse was created to give inspiration, information and confidence to the reader.

This publication celebrates The Tenth Muse that is alive in all of us! She gives us the confidence to embrace going beyond the nine original muses.

Ms. Terious explores many subjects related to art and framing that can be used in the real world as you explore your own personal tastes and experiences without boundaries.

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