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Artelier Art Investment: All About Blue

Artelier delves into the allure of blue, from ancient epochs to today. Once the most elusive and prized pigment in all the world, blue has enchanted artists for centuries. From Gainsborough's The Blue Boy to star-studded contemporary visionaries, our curator explores those who submerged their worlds in blue hues.


The first colour photograph of Earth from Space, October 5, 1954 © (NRL)

"Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do..." Major Tom speaks to Ground Control one last time before drifting off lost into the endless blue space. In 1954, humans saw space for the first time. An aerobee rocket, carrying two 16mm movie cameras (one with colour film) captured the first images of Earth from space, dizzying the imaginations of the world and everyone in it. We are enveloped in blue.


The colour itself has an infinitely beguiling quality. Blue is all around us, yet perpetually feels out of reach. We can't touch the blueness of the ocean it slips through our fingers the moment we try to grasp it, dissolving into shades of grey, green, or transparency. Nor can we touch the nebulous horizon in the distance. It has, and continues to be, a captivating challenge for artists to capture the perfect blue; as to do so is to capture the great beyond.


Here at Artelier, we recognise that so much of the art investment process is about immersing yourself in a world of deep appreciation and learning, which, in turn, opens up a nuanced understanding of global trends, socio-political dynamics, and the evolving artist-audience dialogue. Balancing passion with pragmatism is essential—while strategic financial acumen ensures sound investments, so does a deep knowledge and love for the materials and art practice in which you invest. With this in mind, we case study 7 blue-chip artist whose technical brilliance is underscored by their glorious use of blue as a pigment. In particular, we encapsulate their lives and emotions that so sensationalised their work, springing them into the public gaze. It's a rich pool to dive into.


Index: click to jump to their section.



 

Ancient Blue Pigment

A Brief History


© Andrea Jemolo, Cairo, Museum of Egypt: Hathor Chapel, Deir al-Bahari

Egyptian blue was the first colour pigment to be created synthetically, around 2,2000 B.C. It was crafted by mixing ground limestone with sand and any copper-containing mineral, then heating to between 800-1000°c. This process results in an opaque dusk-blue glass, which, when crushed and combined with thickening agents, creates a long-lasting varnish, or enamel. In ancient Egypt, the colour blue was revered, used to decorate the tombs of pharaohs and swathe Egyptian deities like Amun and Hathor in divine light.


Along with the fortunate Egyptians who were the first and some of the only makers of blue pigment for millennia, the Indus Civilisation also sourced this precious pigment. Inhabiting regions across Afghanistan and India from 3300-1300 B.C, they discovered found the richest and most brilliant blue known to man: lapis lazuli, hidden within the rocky walls of underground caves. Marco Polo who once traversed the Sar-i Sang mines in Shortugai, Afghanistan, wrote of lapis-lazuli:


“There is a mountain in that region where the finest azure in the world is found. It appears in veins like silver streaks.”


© Now Travel Asia, Interior of the Sultanahmet Mosque / 'Blue Mosque', Istanbul, built 1607

The pigment travelled all over, especially adorning mosques, from Iran to Uzbekistan, used in Islamic tradition to connotate the unfathomable depths of the cosmos and the purity of the soul in its divine essence.


When lapis lazuli arrived in Venice from distant lands, carried by Arab sailors across 4,000 miles of sea, it captivated artists like a celestial gift. "A noble colour, beautiful, the most perfect of all colours," wrote the pre-Renaissance painter, Cennino Cennini. From Botocelli's dreamscapes to Titian's crisp blue skies, blue signified only the most divine, sacred imagery, bought at astronomically high prices and truly revered. It's difficult to imagine, but blue had never before been used in art in the West.


By the 18th century blue, when German colour maker Johann Jacob Diesbach accidentally stumbled upon Prussian blue while experimenting with concocting plant ash, iron and animal blood, blue became more widespread and relatively affordable compared to before.



 

The Blue Boy

Once the Most Famous Painting in the World


Scrawled in pencil on the back of one of the world's most prized paintings are the words: "Au revoir. CH". This farewell note, penned by National Gallery director Sir Charles Holmes in 1921, echoed the sentiments of a heartbroken British public as Gainsborough's famous oil painting, The Blue Boy completed in 1770, departed from auction.


Sold to American railway tycoon Henry Huntington for a record-breaking $728,000 at the time (a record-breaking amount) its departure was seen by many as a national loss. In many ways, with the First World War just over, the blue boy in Gainsborough's picture symbolised to the British public the countless boy soldiers—some 250,000 of whom were under 18—who marched rosy-cheeked and zealous for their country, too many never to return.

Thomas Gainsborough, 'The Blue Boy', 1770, Oil on canvas

Not only culturally significant, but the sleek blue attire of Gainsborough's young subject inspired awe in Georgian-Era Britain, as the pinnacle of childhood and masculinity. The renowned rivalry between Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, both prolific portraitists, is legendary. Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy in London, dictated the artistic norms of the time, favouring warm, red tones over blues. Gainsborough, in a bold move, defied this convention by dressing his subject in striking Prussian blue—a defiance that cemented this portrait as his most celebrated work.


But what of the blue-boy mania today? Re-created in many different glints of pop culture: magazines, lampshades, chocolate wrappers, Laurel and Hardy's short Wrong Again (1929), Tim Burton's Batman (1989), Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (2012).



 

Picasso's Blue Period

1901-1904


"I started painting in blue when I learned of Casagemas's death"


In 1899, Pablo Picasso crossed paths with a young man who would soon become his closest companion and conduit for his most profound artworks: Carlos Casagemas. Only a year apart in age—Picasso at 18, Casagemas at 19—they both left their families and homes behind, leaving Spain to rent a modest studio in the beating heart of the art world: Paris. Nations all over the world were flocking to the city with bright new architecture, artworks and inventions for the 1900 Exposition Universelle - a world-famous art fair which sought to bring in the very best of one century to the next.


Young and broke, both Picasso and Casagemas sought to be part of this new world. Living la vie de bohème, they painted by day and partied hard during the night. During this period, Casagemas fell deeply in love with muse and model, Germaine Gargallo. Consumed by passion, he ardently pursued her, until one night, on February 17th 1901, Casagemas asked her to marry him at the Café Hippodrome in Pigalle. When she refused, Casagamas fired a shot at her, narrowly missing, but, believing he had killed her, took the gun to his right temple, and tragically ended his own life.


Pablo Picasso, 'Casagemas in His Coffin', 1901, Oil on cardboard

This event profoundly impacted Picasso, catalysing a seismic shift in his subject matter. Confronting mortality, Picasso immersed himself in the life of his bereaved best friend. He moved into Casagemas' house and began a relationship with Germaine, Casagemas' girlfriend. His grief propelled him from a tight academic style to simplistic skeletal figures, painted with haunting blue hues. Blue, for Picasso, symbolised the in-between—a place of contemplation on mortality and the great beyond. Immersed in sorrow, his figures, from crouching prostitutes sacralised as the Virgin Mary, to mythical scenes of hollowed-out figures with sunken eyes, epitomised Realism with sharp emotion in a somewhat rancid, cheap, blue synthetic paint.


By 1906, Picasso was discovered by French art dealer Ambroise Vollard, a major supporter of Modernist artists including Cézanne, Renoir, Gaugin and Van Gogh. Vollard bought Picasso's entire blue period collection for 2,000 French francs, roughly £150 today (although francs were worth much more then). This sale established Picasso as "the new great genius, after Rembrandt and Goya," marking a turning point in his career.


 

Henri Matisse's 'Nu Bleu'

1952


When you see [the nudes] together, the skill and sheer exuberance of the material will be apparent. People sometimes say these could be done by a child, but it’s only an old man that has this incredible freedom of mind.

~ Sir Nicholas Serota



A contemporary to Picasso, Henri Matisse was amongst the same group of Parisian artists and intellectuals who sought to define the new artistic system. The classical style, once the pinnacle of art, no longer satisfied the avant-garde tastes of the day: and these Parisian-centred groups of artists sought to redefine it.


Developed later in life, the nudes were part of Matisse's desire "to draw in paper", especially since he was no longer able to paint or sculpt after surgery for abdominal cancer.  Finding inspiration in the widest of sources, from Greek traditions to Islamic art, Japanese prints and the natural world, Matisse sought to embrace flat shapes, controlled lines, and fluid brushstrokes in the Fauvist style (a movement in which he led), culminating in his flat, blue lithographs of collage, with blue nudes that seem as though the sky has personified a female form.

In deep blue against a white background, Blue Nudes appear deceptively simple but took numerous studies and weeks of laborious cutting and arranging to create the perfect form, with the paper pre-painted with blue gouache by his assistants before Matisse “drew” the forms with his scissors and then assembled the figures. Quite unlike Picasso's blue period, Matisse’s Blue Nudes are the result of his lifelong quest to create “an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.”



 

Infinite Blue

Yves Klein's blue


"The colour blue is the one colour you can disappear into. When gazing at it, you forget the frame and the size, you just get lost in it. It's the universe's colour; so little but so big and so powerful. It's limitless" - Rotraut Uecker


Yves Klein, 'Leap Into the Void', 1960, Gelatin silver print

Late in the autumn of 1960  a young Yves Klein, clad in a sharp navy-blue suit, spread his arms wide as though they were wings, and lept from the second-story window of his Parisian art dealer's home. Suspended momentarily, he seemed as though he might just drift away weightlessly or thump to the ground brittle and broken.


In reality, the photo was exquisitely staged—Klein's fall was caught by a tarpaulin held by a group of judo friends, repeated three times.


But why orchestrate such an act? For Klein, it was about actualising his deep passion for the blue sky— or rather, 'the void', as he termed it. Deep, vast and boundless, to Klein — a mystical thinker — jumping into the open blue vista symbolised surrendering to infinity. This moment, captured in a now-famous photograph, challenged photography's traditional role as a purveyor of life's truth.


Yves Klein, 'Untitled Blue Monochrome', 1957

Born in 1928, Klein navigated a whirlwind era of change shaped by World War Two's aftermath. Existentialist ideas flourished in response to the war's devastation. Threats of nuclear war loomed, and the Cold War brought the rise of Communism amidst a booming advertising industry. Simultaneously, the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, while luminaries like Freud, Einstein, and Carl Jung reshaped humanity's understanding.


Amid this turbulence stood Yves Klein, deeply influenced by the social and political upheaval of his time. For him, blue represented purity, spirituality, an escape into the boundlessness of the cosmos—a stark contrast to the trauma of war. Klein's paintings demanded active engagement, urging viewers to reconnect with existence, to become impregnated even, and rebirthed by the colour's effects.


Klein was utterly consumed by blue — rather than painting with the colour, like our previous artists, Klein wanted his art to become the colour — to be ineffable, fathomable, transformative. He went so far as to revolutionise blue pigment so that it became the brightest, burning blue synthetically made ever. As far as he saw it, the traditional oil used to liquefy blue pigment powder into paint always adulterated the colour. To achieve the blue, luminous colour of the sky, Yves Klein, along with an art dealer, invented a medium that could: which he termed International Klein Blue.




 

Anish Kapoor

Sculptures from the Sky


When lapis-lazuli came to Europe in the early 15th century, people believed they were holding a fragment of the sky in the palm of the hand, somehow crystallised so that we could hold the divine.


Blue-chip British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor allows us to relish this. Continuing the same ideology as Klen (a fascination with blue as the material for contemplating infinity), Kapoor's ultramarine pigment (developed from lapis-lazuli) coats his sculptures in a velvety layer. His sculptures, whether resting on the floor or projecting from walls, create a mesmerising effect that tease and test the boundaries of spatial perception. The powdered pigments on the ground delineated the surface while making the objects appear partially submerged, akin to icebergs—a concept that resonated with Kapoor's fascination with the idea of existence and presence. Many of his works seem to retreat into the distance, meld into the earth, or distort the very space they inhabit, inviting viewers into a world where boundaries between substance and emptiness blur.


"While making the pigment pieces, it occurred to me that they all form themselves out of each other - like infinite objects. The powder works sat on the floor or projected from the wall. The powder on the floor defines the surface of the floor and the objects appear to be partially submerged, like icebergs."


Anish Kapoor, 'A Wing at the Heart of Things', 1990, Slate and pigment

Anish Kapoor, 'Untitled', 1990, Fiberglass and pigment
 

James Turrell

Roden Crater


For five decades, LA-based artist Turrell had devoted his practice to sculpting light and space in extraordinary ways. "We are creatures of light", he says. Devotees flocks to his exhibitions in America, Europe, Australia and Asia, including skyspaces, enclosed rooms with apertures in the roof which manipulate the sky’s hues. Galleries and museums can’t get enough of him despite the painstaking need to build pieces on site, installing light sources, blocking off windows and constructing zigzag hallways and drywalls with Nasa-level meticulousness to achieve the desired effect.


In terms of blue, Turrell's work in the desert is particularly wonderful. With the feel of a minimalist design of a temple, the artist's 'Roden Crater' in the Arizona desert, show the blue sky - as it shifts from dusk to twilight - in a clean oval cut-out with stairs leading up to it, as though the portal from earth to heaven.


This monumental project, 580 feet tall and nearly two miles wide, features tunnels and chambers crafted to capture celestial light. One completed tunnel, stretching 854 feet, refracts moonlight through a six-foot lens onto an eight-foot marble disk below. Aligned with the Major Lunar Standstill every 18.61 years, Turrell collaborated with astronomers to account for cosmic geometry changes over millennia. They joke that the project will be perfected in about 2,000 years, mirroring the universe's expansion.

"In the age of consumerism and mass-production... I sell blue sky and coloured air." - James Turrell




 

Top Tips for Investing in Blue Art


Historical context plays a pivotal role in determining the value of an artwork, while the investment process itself demands both diligence and passion. The artists featured in this article represent blue-chip names, providing a solid foundation in the poetic use of blue pigment across art history. Consider setting aside a portion of your collection to explore its sublime effects.


Take, for example, Thomas Gainsborough's iconic The Blue Boy which — although it remains housed in The Huntington Museum— is a testament to how context can influence an artwork's significance and worth.


Picasso, 'La Gommeuse', 1901, Oil on canvas

Picasso's Blue Period works are exceedingly rare at auction, with fewer than five pieces sold in the last 15 years; this only increases with time. When Ambroise Vollard bought Picasso's work for a mere £150 in 1906, we can be quite sure he couldn't imagine that it would sell for £19 million in 1995 (Angel Fernández de Soto). Just 15 years later, the same work was sold through Sotheby's for an 84% profit, at £35 million. La Gommeuse also sold for £53.5 million in the same year. All in all, Picasso's blue periods are considered gems of the early artist's career and are a solid investment choice.


When it comes to the sleek blue collages of Henri Matisse, young investors just starting their collection may choose to buy a print, termed 'After Matisse' by the artist's estate, for very low prices. However, be aware that this is not an official Matisse print (overseen by the artist), and there are a plethora of these prints out there they do lack originality, mythos and rarity. If you're looking for long-term investment potential, investors would be better off putting aside cash for a drawing by the artist. Selling between the £10-40,000 mark, these drawings are hidden gems, offering long-term exclusivity and potential for appreciation as the years go by.


Henri Matisse, (left to right) 'Two Studies of a Nude', 'Four Nudes, Two Heads', 'Two Women in Street Costumes',

drypoint on paper

Yves Klein's artworks, infrequently available due to his premature death, command prices exceeding £1 million, with certain editions tripling in value over the years. During his short lifetime, Klein did manufacture several editions of objects at any one time, e.g. The Venus of Alexandria, which, although being 1 edition in 300, has tripled in price from 2005 to 2023. For those on smaller budgets, there is the possibility of acquiring lesser-known pieces like La Terre Bleue or Sculpture Eponge bleue sans titre, which while not show-stoppers in the artist's lifetime, were produced by his gallery posthumously (1999), often as 1/100 editions. La Terre Bleue sold for £5,600 at Sotheby's in 1994, doubled in value a decade later, making it an intriguing investment option.



Yves Klein, 'La Terre Bleue', IKB pigment and synthetic resin on plaster cast, numbered 102/300


Anish Kapoor's works are available through leading outlets like Christie's and by a range of leading galleries, from Alpha 137 to Baldwin Contemporary. With works spanning a diverse range of prices, savvy buyers are advised to consult with art experts for optimal acquisition strategies. Kapoor's paintings sell anywhere from £20,000-£50,000, whilst his sculptures — in particular his blue and chrome-coloured works — sell upwards of £100,000. Most recently, Untitled, 2008, shocked audiences when it sold for far higher than its estimated price at Christie's, with the gavel down at £733,000. A key tip is to source an early sculptural work by Kapoor (his sculptural work is and shall continue to be his most sought after), such as his beautifully coated blue Angel series. Estimated prices are much lower, at £100,000-£150,000 at this stage.


Anish Kapoor, 'Untitled', 2008, Stainless steel and lacquer

Finally, James Turrell's expansive land art is ideally suited for art institutions or sculpture parks due to its large scale. However, for collectors interested in owning a piece, there are drawings, prints, and architectural plans available, priced between £500-£2000. These architectural designs are fascinating for any Turrell lover, exposing the hand-drawn detail and mind of the artist, whilst also being expected to appreciate posthumously. Ultimately, however, with Turrell's work being uber-selective within the commissioning process, with colossal detail, it should be considered more about cultivating an experience rather than solely having a piece of art in your collection. In this way, it's another type of investment - a vessel for lasting generations.


James Turrell, 'Four Lights Installation', 1982

 

Artelier Art Consultancy


At Artelier we specialise in investment-grade art by emerging Modern and Contemporary artists.


Our Art Concierge service, powered by seasoned art consultants, excels in negotiating the best prices and site for your artworks, crafting collections from emerging artists to blue-chip artists, tailored to your investment goals. As a turn-key art consultancy, we work diligently to curate a collection from research to our framing service and installation.


For further insights, delve into our free, comprehensive industry guide, and feel free to reach out for personalised guidance on your investment journey.


Danny Lane, 'Stairway', 2005, glass and steel

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