Inventor of the Colour Wheel - Found at Last?

In an earlier article, I described a tool artists can use to get colour right, first time and every time. This immensely useful tool is called The Colour Wheel. Who invented it, where and when, were questions I couldn't begin to answer - until now.

Back then, all I retained was mention in a British documentary film of an expert colourist who was engaged by a tapestry factory in 15th century Paris. Now, thanks to several informative articles on French history, found on the Web, I can share what seem to be the probable answers.

An atelier for tapestries was set up under the royal patronage of Francis 1. Handsome, athletic and adventurous, but not over-endowed intellectually, this king spent most of his life at war, protecting the established Catholic church from the rise of Protestantism. Dubbed by his admirers 'the most Christian of kings,' the irony of his rule lay in his choice of Lutherans and Muslims as allies. But the times were a-changing. Across Europe, the Renaissance turned the arts in exciting new directions. This drew the king's attention away from the battlefield and led him to encourage French artists to create objects of beauty to adorn the public buildings of France.

While getting ready for another war in 1547, Francis died and was succeeded by his son Henry 11. The new regime grew even more repressive against Protestants. Busying himself with the burning of suspected heretics, Henry also shared his father's enthusiasm for foreign wars. These twin obsessions soon had the nation close to bankruptcy, so relief must have been felt by the population when the king's short reign was ended by a fatal injury at a tournament.

One clue testifies to this king's interest in beauty and the arts. A famous set of tapestries, woven at the atelier his father patronised, now hangs at the Paris museum connected with the Gobelin name. Depicting the goddess Diana, it is often rumoured to be a likeness of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry 11.

In 1602, Henry rented factory space for Flemish tapestry makers on the current location of the Gobelins Manufactory. He was the first monarch to decide that rather than considering the arts as questionable luxuries, the State should provide funding for them. In 1607, he set up the world's first tapestry factory owned and operated by the State.

However, not until the advent of Louis XIV was the anarchy of the scattered and diverse ateliers organised. The resulting group was named for the originating family, who were otherwise not connected to it. The new 'Gobelins' employed 250 tapestry-makers, along with painters, engravers, cabinetmakers, goldsmiths and silversmiths. All were charged by the king to work in co-operation for the glory of France.

As Louis saw it, he was France. He was five years old when crowned in 1643, so France was ruled by a regent until 1661, when Louis took full control. His idea of government was based on the theory of 'divine right of kings' and the absolute power it conferred on him. We all know where that led. The dust of revolution is long settled but the beauty created by the skill of tapestry-weavers and the vivid colours of the dye-makers remains.

Dorothy Gauvin is an internationally acclaimed Australian painter in oils who specialises in an epic theme of Australia's pioneers. See images of her 'Life-Story' portraits, an ABC of homemade tools for painters with arthritis, plus tips and advice for aspiring artists and collectors on her website at

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