Maison Sennelier: Color Inspiration From Paris

As we remove ourselves from winter's moody blues and look forward to tidbits of spring, we are delighting in trend forecasters' news of the approaching season's upcoming color palettes. For those of us in the fields of fashion and art, the perfect color is of the utmost importance to our work. Many of us helplessly dedicate countless hours of research in seeking out the ideal color scheme. My color inspiration is found within the doors of a beautiful historic Parisian landmark located in front of the Louvre in France.

It all began in 1887 when a dedicated chemist by the name of Gustave Sennelier founded the art supplies store Maison Sennelier in Paris. His impeccable eye for color came from his studies of pigment origin and through mixing the solidity of hues. His choice of palette soon became the ultimate standard of excellence. Although he originally sold his paints through existing manufactures, Gustave soon chose to sell his personal mixtures to his customers instead. These colors were made up of local pigments and binders from his travels throughout Europe. Using resources such as ochres and raw sienna mixed with organic materials such as roots, carmine, cochineal, ivory black and burnt bones, he fashioned the most radiant of colors.

Many of Gustave's aesthetic visions were advised by his Impressionist friends. He created an egg tempura that became a crucial element in many of Chagall's timeless creations. Cézanne frequently painted in Gustave's garden and Degas had a number of extra soft pastels specially crafted to use in his artwork. Other artists who popularized Sennelier's mediums were Gaugin, Van Gogh, Monet, Kandinsky and Dali.

Gustave, the brilliant chemist that he was, would often have specific colors requested by artists. According to their needs, he would blend precise pigments to create the perfect color. Because of the handmade blends, many of the Impressionist artists were able to use unique one-of-a-kind colors in their work. Colors such as vermillion, cadmium orange, pink madder, phthalo green, mars violet, flesh ochre and iridescent bright bronze still remain available today.

In 1947, Gustave's son Henri was asked by Pablo Picasso to create a new medium which they called the oil pastel. The oil pastel was created solely to Picasso's request of wanting to lay down the paintbrush and draw directly onto the canvas. The oil pastel remains a popular medium amongst artists all over the world. With this type of craft, the Parisian landmark continues to stand strong. Gustave's grandson, Dominique Sennelier keeps the history and tradition of the Maison Sennelier thriving.

I recently joined my good friend and talented contemporary artist, Robert Lambert, a long-time companion of the Sennelier family, in New York at an event honoring Dominique Sennelier and the family's rich heritage and history. Between Paris, New York and Amsterdam, Robert frequently incorporates Sennelier's products in his artwork. Maison Sennelier was the only art supplies store in the world who offered Robert credit after seeing his work. Traditionally closed during lunch, Robert was given the code to the store to use in case he needed to come in and get product while the shop owners were away. Described as an incredibly giving and supportive family, the Maison Sennelier also created custom stretched canvases and handmade sketching paper for Roberts work.

The most fascinating part of the evening was when Dominique pulled out a small vintage wooden box to show us. Inside the dusty box was an original batch of stunning oil pastels made specifically for Picasso. The box also included pastels made for Cézanne and the original Sennelier product catalog from late 1880's.

For over 120 years, the family owned shop has created inspiration and beauty for timeless pieces of art, and maintained its reputation for carrying the most brilliant colors available in the world.