While I have been collecting palettes, I’ve found a huge part of the fun is finding a place for them in our tiny city chateau. The walls are completely lined, at this point, in paintings and palettes. The palettes have had to really muscle in to stake their claims in a limited real estate market! When I began my collection I wasn’t sure how many palettes were out there and I bought everything! As a result, I’ve ended up with a very non-focused but eclectic collection.
In my mind, decorating with a collection is always the most interesting way to go. Whether it’s a row of German glass tree-toppers, scrimshaw molars with sailing ships, paint-by-numbers, or mourning wreaths… quantity looks wonderful! Which is not to say that quality must suffer. If your style, like mine, is of the ‘rabid dog’ variety, then you will end up with a pile of palettes that resembles a mess of pick-up sticks, and you’ll have to figure out a way to display them all fairly. That’s where the ‘power wall’ comes in.
Sometimes it’s necessary to choose certain palettes for certain places in the home. In the below example I needed some palettes that could flank Fernando Fox and his dark wooden clock case:
I needed palettes made of dark wood (to compliment the clock case) but with bright painting, since it’s little Teddy’s room and the walls are meant to be light and bright.
In the next example, I wanted something bright and similar in color to go beside the sailors valentine I made my husband. Incidentally… palettes and shell art are perfect little bedfellows.
And adding a few strays is always a fun challenge with an already crowded wall:
And by the way, an empty mantle can make a perfect bookshelf by just adding some planks.
And another clock case I painted for my husband with all his Lovecraft monsters- surrounded by more bright palettes:
The dark aubergine wall really sets off the palettes to advantage, but at the same time, it take some creativity to prevent a lot paintings and palettes from making the wall look flat. I snapped up a plate display (super cheap and very common) and painted it to match the wall:
It provided a little depth and interest without becoming a feature itself. It also allowed me to prop up some small paintings and old game pieces.
But maybe you want to start by collecting a specific type of palette first. You can always expand laterally (and who can’t?). But will I even find enough palettes to be able to be choosey, you ask? That all depends on how aggressive you are. I’m giving you enough tips in this blog to be able to acquire at least 3-5 a week – at LEAST – so you can afford to be selective if you want to focus your collection from the start.
One category of collecting is style. What is your taste? Impressionist? Modern? Abstract? Expressionist? If you already have a strong theme going in your living space then you may want to expand on the same theme with your palettes. It’s no good hanging an impressionist palette next to a print of Escher. Nobody will thank you for that indigestion-maker. Your palettes should either blend with their immediately surroundings or set them off – to the advantage of both.
Collecting Pointillist palettes is an idea. They’re spotty and busy and interesting to look at. You can ‘Where’s Waldo’ it for hours, and these palettes tend to look different each time.
This above example belonged to a 1940s’ – 50s greeting card illustrator. He wasn’t an impressionist of any sort, but he only needed a small dab of color for his small-scale artwork, so his palette ended up looking like a pointillist masterpiece.
This one I found in Concord, Massachusetts (a FANTASTIC town for antiquing) and, although I don’t know anything about its origins, it is a hugely decorative and eye-catching palette that blends with just about anything.
The Impressionist palettes are different from the pointillist ones. Pointillism is just one branch of Impressionism. When I find a palette with really sensual brushstrokes and soft, fleshy colors (sounding accidentally erotic) then I think of it as an Impressionist palette.
This one looks capable of painting sunflowers, blue beds, jungle beasts, and cabaret singers.
This one is the quintessential impressionist palette—the brushwork looks like a stand-alone painting.
Folding palettes are another category of collecting that are interesting and worth considering. Folding palettes collapsed into slim little artists’ boxes and have beautiful hinges and hooks. They are rarer and more valuable (expect to pay about $100 – $150 for one), but they are MUCH more common on French eBay than any other.
This one my sister bought off French eBay for my last birthday. It looks good enough to EAT.
French eBay again. The artist used a lot of water for mixing, so it’s a good thing the wood is nice and solid– otherwise it would have warped terribly.
Here’s another gem from French eBay – full of ballet blues.
And again, French eBay.
Tip: when searching French eBay search for ‘ancien palette’, ‘palette peinture’, ‘palette peinture’, peinture boite’, ‘peintre boite’, palette boite’, ‘chevalier palette’—and then use google translate to compose a question about shipping costs. French sellers are typically very forthcoming and friendly (contrary to all you’ve heard).
You can also collect by color. It’s a different kind of a challenge and you can just choose your favorite color as effectively as pinning the tail on the donkey. Here is a blue:
This one’s heavier on yellows:
And this one greens:
Then there are the very old palettes. They usually have less paint; but you’re trading paint globs for elegance. Old palettes are beautiful in the quiet way Old Masters are beautiful.
And old palettes go with any decorating scheme—especially fine paintings.
Then there are the ‘correct’ palettes. Artists who were being taught understood that they were meant to squirt the paint in a particular order down one side (the order changed just like a fashion) and mix in the middle (body) of the palettes. Art students and professional artists who maintained this practice ended up with palettes that showed a lot of method and technique. These I think of as ‘correct’ palettes.
The above belonged to the English artist, Edward Henry Bearne (1844 – 1914), who studied with Jozef Van Luppen.
This is one that’s mentioned the upcoming BBC Homes & Antiques. It’s the French palettes with scraps of English newspaper stuck to it. I believe it belonged to one of the MANY Americans studying in Paris or working toward the Paris salon. The palette still has the tag on it from Dupres- the shop where it was purchased. When I googled it, I found that the shop is still there, at the same address, and still selling art supplies! The fact that I almost wet my pants when I made this discovery says a lot about my threshold for ‘excitement’ these days.
This palette was part of a chevalier box. These were artists’ plein air boxes (to be used outside) that accordion open to reveal the paintbox and a shelf with an easel to prop the canvas. The palette slid right out to be held in the painter’s free hand.
Of course there’s a filter as simple and obvious as round or square. This distinction needs no explanation at all!
Another variety of palette (harder to find) is that of the palette knife painter. You might be thinking ‘too Bob Ross’, but many palette knife palettes are exceptionally pretty. The constant scraping moves the paint around in interesting, unexpected ways.
This one I found in Cork. It was the only palette I found during my week in Ireland with my husband and my mother-in-law—and believe me, I was combing the country.
It’s wonderful to see the scraping close-up.
Here’s another great example:
When you look at the close-up you can see how lovely and tranquil the surface is. Just like a Scottish Loch before a sea monster emerges.
And this one is a 2-sided palette (below) – one of the most unusual I’ve found. The other side is blanched white with a lot of pointillist sparks of color. But this side is encrusted with layers of paint, leveled with a palette knife.
Due to age, (and some banging about) much of the paint has chipped off, leaving something of a fossil behind. It almost looks like accelerated erosion.
Something as simple as the color of wood can be a collection filter. Something as blond (pine) as this makes it a 1950s – 60s palette (or newer).
But if you’re a retro/ vintage decorator and you do a lot with vintage wallpaper, you’ll find these blond 50s palettes look fabulous!
Collecting palettes belonging to known painters is also a challenge. When I say ‘a challenge’, I guess I mean VERY VERY difficult. But fun. If you don’t want a huge amount of palettes and you’re of the slow and steady school of collecting, then this might be the very thing for you.
This one belonged to the German artist, Ludwig Muniger.
And here’s an example of Muninger’s work:
This palette belonged to the GREAT Charles Kiffer:
And here is an example of Kiffer’s work…who knows, maybe my palette was there when these were painted:
The homemade palettes are the holy grail category. It can be hard to identify them at first, but when you make exhaustive searches, see a lot of palettes, find something REALLY different, and can’t match it to anything in vintage art supplier catalogs (another collection), then you may have a treasures homemade palette.
This one I found at an antique center in Amsterdam. The seller was foolish enough to tell me he NEVER saw palettes throughout his many years of dealing– so I didn’t buy it. Then, that very weekend my husband and I took a trip to Maastricht and, upon exiting the train station, I immediately found on on a market stall. As soon as we were back in the city, I went and bought this one– and a good thing I did. Not only is it one of my sentimental favorites, but it’s been repaired several times (with old staples) (oh, dear, finances were not good for this artist!) and I believe it’s homemade to boot.
I think this is the most unusual one I own. I believe it to be homemade– another find off French eBay. I bought it for 20Euro (a steal!) because no one else bid on it. The thumb hole is extremely uncomfortable, but I think the artist was more committed to the deco look than to comfort. It’s also very thick, heavy, and literally rough around the edges.
The second to last category of collecting is ‘Sounvenir’. Maybe you want your collection to happen organically. When you’re on your summer holiday or having a flea market weekend with the girls—palettes that enter the collection as souvenirs are undoubtedly THE BEST.
This one my husband found for me on our seven-palette honeymoon. And this 2-sided beauty was the best.
This one I found while I was exploring the Massachusetts Berkshires two autumns ago with my mother.
A gift from a dear friend.
This one my husband found in a God-forsaken junk center around Brimfield, Mass (yes, the famed). There are a lot of antique/junk shops there (year round) that SHOULD have been prime places to unearth palettes. We had found NONE and I was feeling rather cheated and challenged when Arjen spotted an artist’s box way up high in a cloud of dusk. He brought it down and it had this palette inside:
And the best part: he box including palette cost $25
And this one I found during one of our romantic weekends away. We’d just left the Maastricht train station and walked right into the most charming antique market where I bought this (first ever palette) for five Euro.
And the last category of palette is the palette that just speaks to you. It isn’t ‘correct’; the artist seemed to have neither rhyme nor reason on his or her side. It wasn’t found in a quaint market or a dusty Aladdin’s cave. It doesn’t have a particular style or color scheme. Maybe you found it on an online auction after an aggressive search and some skillful sniping. But you bought it because it ‘spoke to you’ and what more can you say? There’s not a thing that can be said against gut instinct. When you find a palette that makes you feel like you’re swimming in a vat of honey and blackcurrants then you buy it on instinct and then later worry about where it fits in your collection and your home.
Beginning to collect anything can be daunting, even overwhelming. I hope that if you’re considering collecting artists’ palettes, that you found this blog both helpful and encouraging. I didn’t go into the minutia of paintbox contents and suppliers. The best tip I can give you is hang your palettes alongside proper art (paintings not prints) (don’t have to be fine!), prop them up on mantles, shelves, behind books, in front of mirrors—you’ll end up seeing color wherever you go. Soon, rainbows will be following you through the streets and you’ll be dreaming in Technicolor!
If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch. I love talking about palettes. I’m also selling a huge part of my collection, if you’re interested in making a quick start!