The Colour Orange
People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.
– Carl Rogers –
Orange is the colour between yellow and red on the spectrum of visible light. Human eyes perceive orange when observing light with a dominant wavelength between 585 – 620 nanometres.
Orange is the only colour of the spectrum whose name was taken from an object, a popular fruit – the orange. In nature, orange is the colour of vivid sunsets, fire, vegetables, flowers, fish, and many citrus fruits. Orange is also the colour of marmalade, traffic cones, life rafts, and Halloween.
The colour orange radiates warmth and happiness, combining the physical energy and stimulation of red with the cheerfulness of yellow. Orange relates to ‘gut reaction’ or our gut instincts, as opposed to the physical reaction of red or the mental reaction of yellow. Orange offers emotional strength in difficult times. It helps us to bounce back from disappointments and despair, assisting in recovery from grief.
History of Orange
In ancient Egypt, artists used an orange mineral pigment called realgar for tomb paintings, as well as other uses. As with many minerals used to make pigments, realgar is highly toxic – it contains arsenic – and was used by the Chinese to repel snakes, in addition to being used in Chinese medicine.
Pigments were also made in ancient times from a mineral known as orpiment. Orpiment was an important item of trade in the Roman Empire and was used in Medieval times in illuminated manuscripts. It was also used as a fly poison and to poison arrows.
Because of its yellow-orange colour, Orpiment was also a favourite with alchemists searching for a way to make gold, both in China and in the West.
In the 18th century orange was sometimes used to depict the robes of Pomona, the goddess of fruitful abundance, whose name came from the pomon, the Latin word for fruit. Oranges themselves became more common in northern Europe, thanks to the 17th century invention of the heated greenhouse, a building type which became known as an orangerie.
Orange was also utilised in various ways by many famous artists:
- French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard depicted an allegorical figure of “inspiration” dressed in orange.
- Claude Monet painted Impression, Sunrise, a tiny orange sun and some orange light reflected on the clouds and water in the centre of a hazy blue landscape. This painting gave its name to the impressionist movement.
- Auguste Renoir painted boats with stripes of chrome orange paint straight from the tube.
- Paul Cézanne did not use orange pigment, but created his own oranges with touches of yellow, red and ochre against a blue background.
- Toulouse-Lautrec often used oranges in the skirts of dancers and gowns of Parisiennes in the cafes and clubs he portrayed. For him it was the colour of festivity and amusement.
- Paul Gauguin used oranges as backgrounds, for clothing and skin colour, to fill his pictures with light and exoticism.
- For Van Gogh orange and yellow were the pure sunlight of Provence. He created his own oranges with mixtures of yellow, ochre and red, and placed them next to slashes of sienna red and bottle green, and below a sky of turbulent blue and violet.
During the Second World War, US Navy pilots in the Pacific began to wear orange inflatable life jackets, which could be spotted by search and rescue planes. After the war, these jackets became common on both civilian and naval vessels of all sizes, and on aircraft flown over water. Orange is also widely worn by workers on highways and by cyclists.
Variations of the Colour Orange
There are many shades of orange – and different meanings. Darker oranges offer a sense of comfort; some are spicy, some are earthy. Lighter oranges are soothing and healthy. Some may be more appealing to those who find orange difficult:
- Peach: Peach encourages great communication and conversation. It inspires good manners and puts people at ease. It has all the attributes of orange but in a much softer, gentler and more cautious form.
- Golden Orange: This version of orange encourages vitality and self-control.
- Amber: Amber helps to inspire greater confidence and better self-esteem. It can promote a degree of arrogance.
- Burnt Orange: This colour emits a negative vibration indicating pride, tension and aggressive self-assertion.
- Dark Orange: Dark orange indicates over-confidence and over-ambition. It tries too hard to prove its worth and to boost its self-esteem, but when it fails, which is often, it develops a chip on its shoulder. It is the colour of the opportunist, taking selfish advantage of every situation.
Culture, Associations & Symbolism
A wide variety of colours, ranging from a slightly orange yellow to a deep orange red, all simply called saffron, are closely associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, and are commonly worn by monks and holy men across Asia.
In Confucianism, the religion and philosophy of ancient China, orange was the colour of transformation.
According to Confucianism, existence was governed by the interaction of the male active principle, the yang, and the female passive principle, the yin. Yellow was the colour of perfection and nobility; red was the colour of happiness and power. Yellow and red were compared to light and fire, spirituality and sensuality, seemingly opposite but really complementary. Out of the interaction between the two came orange, the colour of transformation.
In Hinduism, the divinity Krishna is commonly portrayed dressed in yellow or yellow orange. Yellow and saffron are also the colours worn by sadhu, or wandering holy men in India.
In Buddhism orange (or more precisely saffron) was the colour of illumination, the highest state of perfection.
- Orange’s global similarities are significant:
- Orange evokes the taste of healthy fruits, bursting with juice.
- Orange is associated with vitamin C and good health.
- Orange is symbolic of autumn.
- Children all over the world are drawn to orange.
- Orange is the colour of life rafts, hazard cones, and high visibility police vests.
- Orange is both the name and emblematic colour of the royal family in the Netherlands.
- Orange is the colour of prison uniforms in the U.S.
- Orange (saffron) is a sacred and auspicious colour in Hinduism.
- In the U.K., orange stands for the Northern Irish Protestants and has very strong religious and political significance.
- Adventure and risk taking: Orange promotes physical confidence and enthusiasm – sportsmen and adventure-seekers relate well to orange.
- Social communication and interaction: Orange stimulates two-way conversation between people – in a dining room when entertaining it stimulates conversation as well as appetite.
- Friendship: Group socialising, parties, the community – wherever people get together to have fun and socialize orange is a good choice.
- Divorce: The optimism of the colour orange helps people move on – it is forward thinking and outward thinking.
- Enthusiasm: Orange is optimistic and extroverted – the colour of the uninhibited.
- Rejuvenation: Orange helps to restore balance to our physical energies.
- Stimulation: Orange is not as passionate or as excitable as red, but it is stimulating, particularly to the appetite – the worst colour to have in the kitchen if you want to lose weight.
- Courage: Orange helps us to take account of our lives, to face the consequences, to take action and make appropriate changes, and then to move onward and upward.
- Vitality: Orange has a more balanced energy than red, not as passionate and aggressive, but full of vitality.
Positive and Negative Traits
Positive keywords include: sociable, optimistic, enthusiastic, cheerful, self-confident, independent, flamboyant, extroverted and uninhibited, adventurous, the risk-taker, creative flair, warm-hearted, agreeable and informal.
Negative keywords include: superficial and insincere, dependent, over-bearing, self-indulgent, the exhibitionist, pessimistic, inexpensive, unsociable, and overly proud.
I had been right: freedom smelled like ozone and thunderstorms and gunpowder all at once, like snow and bonfires and cut grass, it tasted like seawater and oranges.
– Tana French –