Colour

This win­try colour evokes crisp for­est walks and Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - News -

Dis­cover the his­tory of fir green, na­ture’s most win­try hue

Each year, in a pat­tern as reg­u­lar as the change of the sea­sons, when the gar­ish orange and black tide of Hal­loween re­cedes two other colours rise up in their place. If red re­minds us of the win­ter cheer to be found by our hearths, fir green is redo­lent of what hap­pens out of doors dur­ing win­ter. It evokes snow-silent forests, the smell of resinous nee­dles un­der­foot, and the feel­ing of noses pinched by the cold. Of course, it also brings to mind the fir trees we drag in­doors in time for Christ­mas.

Un­like red, whose as­so­ci­a­tions with win­ter’s fes­tiv­i­ties are rel­a­tively re­cent, fir green’s claim to be the sea­son’s hue goes back be­fore the birth of Christ. Around the win­ter solstice, when the night is at its long­est and ev­ery mo­ment of day­light feels pre­cious, the Ro­mans cel­e­brated Satur­na­lia. Ded­i­cated to Saturn, the god of agriculture and har­vest, the fes­ti­val was one of mis­rule and mer­ri­ment: ser­vants be­came masters, gifts of ever­green branches were ex­changed, and any speeches given had to make peo­ple laugh. Fur­ther north, Druids and Vikings also in­cor­po­rated dark-green fo­liage into their cel­e­bra­tions of the year’s turn­ing point.

The use of fir trees them­selves came a lit­tle later. Al­though the ori­gins of the Christ­mas tree are hotly con­tested, one pop­u­lar tale in­volves Saint Boni­face, the 1st-cen­tury bishop re­spon­si­ble for con­vert­ing most of Ger­ma­nia (the Ro­man term that de­scribed swathes of cen­tral Europe, in­clud­ing Ger­many and the Low Coun­tries). Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, upon com­ing across an oak sa­cred to the god Thor, Boni­face im­me­di­ately chopped it down. When the lo­cal pagans ob­jected vo­cif­er­ously, he pre­sented them with a fir tree that he claimed was a sym­bol of Christ, thus al­low­ing them to carry on much as they had be­fore. Boni­face’s prag­ma­tism was not uni­ver­sally ap­pre­ci­ated. Ter­tul­lian, an early Chris­tian au­thor and near con­tem­po­rary of the bishop’s, took a very dim view of tree ven­er­a­tion. ‘Let them over whom the fires of hell are im­mi­nent, af­fix to their posts lau­rels doomed presently to burn,’ he fumed.

Thank­fully, fir green has since been wel­comed in from the cold. Be­cause of the paucity of dyes and colourants avail­able be­fore the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion, artists and de­sign­ers strug­gled to get re­li­able greens. But in 1775, while study­ing ar­senic, a Swedish sci­en­tist called Carl Wil­helm Scheele dis­cov­ered a fam­ily of greens that could be used to colour ev­ery­thing from house paints to con­fec­tionery. Fir green be­came a dar­ling of the Arts and Crafts move­ment: many of Wil­liam Mor­ris’s early de­signs, for ex­am­ple, are sym­phonies on the theme of ever­green fo­liage. It makes a good foil for other colours, too, which is why this shade of green is often used on mu­seum walls. And while some can find it over­pow­er­ing in their homes, it has been em­braced in fur­ni­ture and soft fur­nish­ings. Kath­leen May, a tex­tile artist who uses nat­u­ral dyes to colour her fab­rics, mixes indigo and chloro­phyllin (the green pig­ment found in plants) to cre­ate cush­ions the shade of a misty Nordic for­est. And the el­e­gant curves of Gubi’s ‘Grand Pi­ano’ sofa sing in unc­tu­ous green vel­vet. Rich and sat­u­rated, this is a colour that feels dig­ni­fied and time­less, but never staid. So while it might feel es­pe­cially rel­e­vant now, per­haps we should re­mem­ber that, like a puppy, fir green isn’t just for Christ­mas.

Paints to try ‘Hunter Dunn’ matt emul­sion, £42.50 for 2.5 litres, Paint & Pa­per Li­brary ( paintand­pa­per­li­brary.com). ‘Bromp­ton Road’ matt emul­sion, £42 for 2.5 litres, My­lands (my­lands.co.uk). ‘Scot­tish Pine’ non-drip gloss, £15.49 for 750 millil­itres, Crown Paints (crown­paints.co.uk)

Rich and sat­u­rated, fir green is a colour that feels dig­ni­fied and time­less

PAN­TONE ® 343 C

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