top of page




 Apparently the reason for some paintings reaching higher prices is ‘often alarmingly simplistic’ i.e. the picture has red in it. But why are we surprised by this? Painters know the impact of this colour. Rembrandt, Rubens, Salvador Dali, they all used it. None more than Titian, making the tint so famous we refer to Titian redheads. 

 But why are we so drawn to it? There is a physical reason, because red has long been the colour of life. It encourages a faster heartbeat, enhances metabolism, speeds up breathing, and raises blood pressure. Red is also a warning colour, as in DANGER signs. Fast food restaurants use red to provoke hunger; shops use it to advertise sales. You never see a sale sign in green. And no matador challenges a bull with a pink cape.

 Scarlet promotes a reaction. Titian used red in ‘The Assumption of the Virgin' to direct the viewer to the most important areas of the painting. We look at ‘The Assumption’ and are guided around the composition by the towering, emotional pyramid of red. 

 It’s shorthand for strength – physical and spiritual power. And sex. In advertising red is erotic: as in make up and underwear. Or powerful: as in sports cars. Think of red light districts too, the colour demanding attention. But some uses are subtle. In heraldry, red is used to symbolise courage. In China, it represents the bloody struggle of the revolution. 

 The church always knew the power of this colour. The galero – the large, red, tasselled hat – was first granted to cardinals by Pope Innocent IV in 1245 because he wanted his favourites to stand out in the processions and underline their importance.

 Some interesting scientific research was recently done with gymnasts. Each team was dressed in a different colour - blue, green, yellow and red – and all performed to the same standard. But when they analysed the findings the red team’s results were consistently higher than the others. Even subconsciously, red is the colour of triumph.

 So it seems obvious that the use of red would drive up the price of a painting. Thomas Lawrence’s ‘Red Boy’ famously challenged Gainsborough’s ‘Blue Boy’; Rembrandt knew that a crimson hat livened up a portrait; and Caravaggio wielded the colour like a whip. But the genie of red is Titian. Like many Old Masters, he used an under-painting of red bole, (powder of red iron oxide or clay) upon which he built his glazes. Up to sixteen in some of his most vibrant reds. They literally shimmered with colour and heat.

 But why does red make a painting more valuable? Because it describes emotion more vividly than other colour. Look at Titian’s ‘Pope Paul III and his Grandsons’ which illustrates the crimson of power; or the portrait of ‘Pietro Aretino’ the scarlet hue of lust; and then look at Caravaggio’s ‘The Entombment’ which bleeds with the dying red of pathos.

It is the colour of all human emotions. 

From the noblest to the basest. 

In red, we recognise ourselves.


bottom of page