As our colour season draws to a close let's recap in a quiz, and find out if you're a fiery red or a mellow yellow (don't worry, it's just for fun)

Our Summer of Colour season on the Tate blog

1. You are magically transformed into a shape. Which shape is it?

A. A circle
B. A triangle
C. A square
D. A bigger square

2. You’re buying a T-shirt. Which colour suits you best?

A. Orange
B. Purple
C. Green
D. White

3. Which best describes you?

A. A contradiction between excitement and repose
B. Serene, gay and softly exciting
C. Graceful, dignified and attractive
D. Positive, but quite cold

4. Which biblical character do you most identify with?

A. The Virgin Mary
B. Saint Peter
C. Mary Magdalen
D. Judas Iscariot

5. Time to relaaaaax. Who do you turn to?

A. David Hockney
B. Olafur Eliasson
C. Mark Rothko
D. Kazimir Malevich

6. You’re painting your masterpiece. What is it?

A. A monochrome canvas. You’re aiming for something close to pure space
B. A sunny scene, with warm masses of light in a mellow color
C. A nice folk scene, like a postman’s wife carrying her geese to market  
D. Something to represent a new beginning

7. You’re setting up a museum of human history. What do you exhibit?

A. An expensive mineral from Afghanistan
B. Lead and tin oxides
C. Mexican insects
D. Wood and peach stones, please

8. You’re going through a rough patch at work. Which title best describes your darkest day?

A. Nocturne
B. The Decline of an Empire
C. The Great Day of His Wrath
D. The Lights Going On and Off


Goethe's symmetric colour wheel, 1809
Goethe's symmetric colour wheel with associated symbolic qualitites, 1809

 Mostly As — BLUE

David Hockney, 'A Bigger Splash' 1967
David Hockney
A Bigger Splash 1967
Acrylic on canvas
support: 2425 x 2439 x 30 mm
Purchased 1981© David Hockney 2010

Whether you err towards the cool pool of Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, the lapis lazuli of Titian’s sky or the melancholy of Whistler’s Nocturnes, you’re the colour that has fascinated artists for centuries.

Traditionally used by Renaissance painters to cloak the Virgin Mary, you may have a boldness akin to royalty — or perhaps a presence that’s ‘powerful, but on the negative side,’ as theorised by the 19th century writer, Wolfgang von Goethe, in his Theory of Colours. This work of genius also gave us the colour wheel and the idea of complementaries — which is why orange is just your colour.

Now, we don’t like to spread gossip, but the Expressionist painter Franz Marc also commented that you have a ‘male principle, stern and spiritual’, while his friend Wassily Kandinsky, a teacher at the Bauhaus, was convinced that you are is innately associated with the shape of a circle (and yellow with triangle, red with square).

Best of all, though, the French artist Yves Klein was so fascinated with you that he made nearly 200 monochrome canvases in your honour. Assuming you’re his particular, patented shade of ultramarine, International Klein Blue — a colour he believed to be ‘close to pure space’ — that is.

Yves Klein Untitled Monochrome Blue IKB 67 textured blue monochrome painting
Yves Klein
Untitled Monochrome Blue IKB 67 1959
Oil on canvas
92 x 73 cm
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 'Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge' circa 1872-5 Tate
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge circa 1872-5 Tate
Oil on canvas
support: 683 x 512 mm frame: 922 x 760 x 83 mm
Presented by the Art Fund 1905

Mostly Bs — YELLOW

Olafur Eliasson The Weather Project in the Turbien Hall, Tate Modern 16 October 2003 - 21 March 2004
Olafur Eliasson
The Weather Project 2003

Good day sunshine! You’re the warm, mellow, light that Sir Joshua Reynolds told his Royal Academy students should flood their canvases, keeping cooler colours such as blue (boo!) to smaller surrounding areas.

For those who bathed under the glow of Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project at Tate Modern in 2003, Goethe’s idea that yellow is ‘serene, gay and softly exciting’ sounds about right — but we don’t know how the venerable Saint Peter would have felt about that. 

In Renaissance painting, his traditional gleaming yellow robes were usually painted in lead-tin yellow, an artificial pigment created by firing the oxides of lead and tin in a furnace to over 800°C. So don’t let red take all the fiery glory, yellow — you’re hot stuff! Shine even brighter by wearing purple, your complementary colour.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire ...' exhibited 1817
Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire ... exhibited 1817
Oil on canvas
support: 1702 x 2388 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Mostly Cs — RED

George Smart Goose Woman c 1840
George Smart
Goose Woman c.1840
Mark Rothko Black on Maroon 1958
Mark Rothko
Black on Maroon 1958

Graceful, dignified and attractive? Well red, that’s not what we’ve heard… but perhaps old Goethe had a soft spot for you. When paired with your complementary colour, green, at Christmas time you appear quite innocent, but rumour has it you’re something of a Mary Magdalene the rest of the year (she’s often depicted in red or semi-naked). Or perhaps we’ve got you all wrong, and you’re just a simple peasant woman taking your geese to market (above), as seen in Tate Britain’s recent Folk Art show.

Either way, there’s no getting around your fiery tendencies; a bad day at the office could easily turn into John Martin’s The Great Day of His Wrath (below), or perhaps the brooding introspection of Rothko’s Black on Maroon (above).

We’ll leave you with the thought that your pigment is often made from crushed Mexican scale insects, which produces a purplish-red dye called cochineal.

John Martin, 'The Great Day of His Wrath' 1851-3
John Martin
The Great Day of His Wrath 1851-3

Mostly Ds — BLACK

Kazimir Malevich Black Square 1913
Kazimir Malevich
Black Square 1913

Well dark horse, you’re the futility that has maddened painters for hundreds of years! While mixing colours together in light makes white, mixing them together in paint makes BLACK - making representing the world in paint basically impossible. After the Impressionists got about as close as they were going to, modernists like Malevich decided to ditch representation altogether to make a new, autonomous art that was free of traditional conventions. He described his famous Black Square as ‘a bare icon… for my time,’ and the ‘new beginning’ referred to in question 6. Incidentally, Malevich’s nothingness pigment of choice is created by scorching wood and peach stones to mark charcoal. 

An inevitable mix of As, Bs, Cs and Ds — BROWN

Patrick Heron, 'Grey and Brown Stripes' 1958
Patrick Heron
Grey and Brown Stripes 1958
Lithograph on paper
image: 521 x 416 mm
Presented by Curwen Studio 1976© Estate of Patrick Heron. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2002

Sorry reader, but you are brown. Don’t worry! You’ve just ably demonstrated the challenge that painters have faced for all time — that if you take a bit of this colour and a bit of that and keep going, more often than not you’ll get a muddy brown. A quick lesson for life: two primaries make a secondary (eg mix red and yellow to make orange); three primaries make BROWN (which can be lovely, of course, in the right hands). Get a grip on the colour wheel before embarking on that masterpiece.


What meaningless pointless tosh. And questions 2, 3 and 4 need an 'other' box, as they are impossible to answer.