Dozens of shades, a position of undeniable relevance in the history of fashion, art and costume, as well as countless sociological values: Pink is all of this.

It’s a multifaceted, composite and contradictory color, starting from its own disposition: it’s an extra-spectral color, meaning that it doesn’t belong directly to the EM spectrum, but it needs other colors to be mixed to create it. Isn’t this enough to describe its peculiarity? In addition, the word itself, “Pink”, entered in the dictionary only during the late 1700, even if it’s one of the first colors appeared on the earth, according to the scientific discoveries that found some pink bacterial fossils dated 1,1, billion years ago. Due to its versatility, during the centuries, it has been variously employed, constantly showing new sides and significances.

Across the centuries: pink conquers the scene

Already during the Middle-Age, it is visible a small amount of pink into the artworks of the main artists, such as Duccio and Cimabue, who are used to depict the Child dressed in pink, according to the chromatic association of the color with the body of Christ. However, only in the Renaissance the color becomes a part of the palette, when it appears into the artistic essays – Cennino Cennini defines it as the combination of Venetian Red and St. John’s White – and when it is orderly used to paint the flesh of the subjects. There are allegorical values also at this time, as it is visible in Raffaello’s painting Madonna of the pinks, which shows the Child who gifts the Mother with a pink flower, symbolizing the cohesion between the two figures.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Virgin with Child, ca. 1280, tempera on wood.

Rafael, Madonna of the Pinks, 1507, oil on wood.

During the transition from Baroque to Roccocò, the tone progressively increases his popularity and diffusion into the artistic context and beyond: it soon gets into the scope of fashion and design. Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV of France, makes the pink one of the leading colors of the Court of Versailles, concerning both clothing and decorative items. Into the artistic scope, once again the color assumes symbolic significances, sometimes even in contradiction: in George Romney’s portraits, it evidently refers to saucy seduction, in Thomas Lawrence’s ones it is used to relate to the dimension of tenderness, innocence and childhood. Moreover, it needs to be mentioned the paintings realized by Jean Honoré Fragonard, dated to the last quarter of 1700, which are characterized by the pink shades of the dresses and the enchanted landscapes.

George Romney, Emma as a Baccante, 1782-4, oil on canvas.

Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of Sarah Moulton, known as “Pinkie” 1794, oil on canvas.

XIX century and the value of gender color

The development of impressionist and post-impressionist movements during 1800, such as the Japanisme movement (meaning the oriental influence on western culture), establishes the final consecration of pink as the main color into the compositions, based on the habit to mix greens, pinks and blues in order to represent the meteorological effects on the nature and the landscape. Claude Monet’s flowers, Edgar Degas’ dancers, and Théo van Rysselberghe’s sunsets are depicted using delicate and soft pastel shades. At the same time, new gender values begin to be spread: until this moment, the color is not associated to any gender, but it is only sometimes used to distinguish childhood from adult age; but from now on, it is insistently attributed to feminine scope. One of the first reference in this sense occurs into the novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, where a pink and a blue ribbon are used to indicate a female infant and a male infant.

Edgar Degas, Dancers in Pink, 1880-5, oil on canvas.

Claude Monet, “Springtime”, 1872, oil on canvas.

XX century: from consumer society to art

During the Twentieth century, the popularity of the color is incredibly unstable. The avant-garde movements, such as Surrealism, Dadaism and Expressionism are strongly male-dominated, that’s why there is no space for delicate tones already felt like feminine. An exception must be considered for Picasso’s Pink Period, distinguished by the use of warm and cozy colors. Simultaneously, these shades conquer a primary position into the fashion world: Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian fashion designer who is aligned to the surrealism movement, creates a collection grounded on the shocking pink, a revolutionary color obtained from the combination of magenta and a small amount of white. The association between pink and the feminine gender becomes more and more rooted. Into the fashion sphere, it is fundamental the contribution of some worldwide known style icons like Jacqueline Kennedy, Mamie Eisenhower, Marylin Monroe; but pink soon floods into household, consumer goods and toys for girls, as it is testified by the explosion of pink which identifies the world of Barbie, created in 1959.

Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen prefer blondes” (1953)

From now on, pinky shades are strongly attributed to the domestic scope, while men prefer to wear more serious and dark colors, more suitable for the business world. Although during the 70’s the feminist movement tries to remove this stereotype, it is destined to increase its popularity during the last decades of the century, and today it is still present. Speaking about art, pink recovers a leading position during the Pop Art movement, based on the intention to convert the images of the consumer society into an artistic language. The development of chemical dyes, way stronger than before, encourages the birth of new shades, such as fucsia. From silkscreens to street artworks, from abstract compositions to urban visions, today it is very common to be looking at wide dripping and expanses of pink, which is often very bright, vibrant, even destabilizing.

Andy Warhol, “Marilyn Monroe”, screenprint in colors on paper.

Pink today

From the last years, the color re-earns a neutral value, regardless gender distinctions, forced by the marketplace and by common taste, due to the commitment of numerous artists: well-known are the almost monochromatic photographs by JeongMee Yoon, depicting a little girl into a room, surrounded by a sea of pink-hued purchases, or the ones by Signe Pierce characterized by a strong pink saturation. The contemporary art scene is moving towards a way more emancipated use of pink, which is displayed, with or without symbolical values, into the works of many artists, such as of Fang Xin Cheng, Mark Rothko, Corneille, Felice Filippini.

Fang-Xing Chen, “Visage pastel”, oil on canvas.

Felice Filippini, “Quattro persone al bar”, acrylic on chipboard.

Cover image: Waner, Caron 3 (2015), acrylic on canvas.

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