Game of tones

Ele­phant’s Breath, Pink Slip, Dead Salmon? Matthew Den­ni­son dis­cov­ers the ori­gins of weird and won­der­ful paint names

Country Life Every Week - - Opinion -

TU­MUL­TUOUS joy reigns here,’ wrote the Aus­trian am­bas­sador to France in Oc­to­ber 1781. Eleven years after her mar­riage, the Aus­trian-born Queen, Marie An­toinette, had given birth to a male heir to the throne. The lit­tle boy was chris­tened Louis Joseph Xavier François. As heir ap­par­ent, he re­ceived the ti­tle Dauphin.

A com­mem­o­ra­tive medal was struck; in Paris, the Opera House staged a free per­for­mance of Pic­cinni’s opera Adèle et Pon­thieu; and the fash­ion­able world fell in love with a new shade of mid brown. With a com­bi­na­tion of scat­o­log­i­cal frank­ness and roy­al­ist fer­vour, it was called caca-dauphin in honour of the new prince (and his bod­ily func­tions).

Such ap­par­ent ec­cen­tric­ity in the nam­ing of a colour can come as no sur­prise to mod­ern read­ers reared 2. 4. on the evoca­tive whimsy of the Far­row & Ball paint chart. Since the early 1990s, when Tom Helme and Martin Eph­son took over the Dorset­based com­pany founded in 1946, strik­ing colour names have com­prised a do­mes­tic Bri­tish pa­tois.

Now, a new book, How to Dec­o­rate, cel­e­brat­ing the com­pany’s 70th an­niver­sary, ex­plains some of their ori­gins and of­fers an op­por­tu­nity to cel­e­brate the creative her­itage rep­re­sented by colour names coined by a range of Bri­tish com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Craig & Rose, My­lands, Lit­tle Greene and Ed­ward Bul­mer Nat­u­ral Paint.

Just as colour it­self pro­vokes a re­sponse in the viewer that is in­vari­ably both conscious and un­con­scious, so the names cho­sen by paint man­u­fac­tur­ers aim to di­rect our reaction to the colours them­selves. The orig­i­nal Far­row & Ball range of the 6. 5. 7. 1990s in­cluded the com­pany’s own shade of mid brown, called Dauphin in honour of that long-dead prince. If few dec­o­ra­tors were aware of Louis Joseph, and even fewer that his birth had been hon­oured by Parisians by colour-nam­ing, the soft sound of the French word it­self felt ap­pro­pri­ate for this gen­tle ter­tiary shade.

More re­cently, in­te­rior de­signer and colour spe­cial­ist Ed­ward Bul­mer also re­sorted to French in nam­ing a shade of dusty pink bal­anced with um­ber Cuisse de Nym­phe Emue. Mr Bul­mer bor­rowed the name from the Dowa­ger Lady Egre­mont, who used a sim­i­lar pink in the fam­ily rooms at Pet­worth House. Lady Egre­mont in turn had taken the name from that of an alba rose, usu­ally known in Bri­tain as Great Maiden’s Blush. 8.

What’s in a name?: 1. Cook­ing Ap­ple; 2. Rail­ings; 3. Pi­geon; 4. Mush­room; 5. Dove; 6. Mole; 7. Hol­land Park; 8. Deep­est Dam­son; 9. Laven­der; 10. Roe Su­pe­rior; 11. Toad; 12. For­get Me Not; 13. Iris; 14. Del­phinium; 15. Acorn; 16. Star­ling Egg

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