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The Colour Orange – Origin, Background & Meaning

Colours express much more than you initially think. They provoke moods and show attitude. The colour orange is striking, present, life-affirming, sometimes intrusive. In this issue of sisterMAG, Michael Neubauer introduces you to the colour orange and informs you about the origin, background and meanings associated with Orange.

  • Text: Michael Neubauer

The color Orange

If I entered my office wearing an orange hat with an orange double-breasted suit and maybe even an orange tie (I’m a guy), I could be sure to be on the receiving end of some smirks, funny remarks or even a „has he gone completely mad now?“ Orange is punchy, life-affirming, present, maybe even intrusive in men’s fashion. While women and stars in fashion and music adorn themselves with it, it is most certainly not a colour for everyday life.

Colours say much more than you would think. They kick-start emotions, show opinions and proclaim attitudes. So it’s only obvious that artists use these qualities to let their paint express confidence, positivity or the opposite.

An example is world-famous contemporary artist Gerhard Richter and his 1994 painting Abstraktes Bild (809-1) (abstract picture). A yellow-green background provides a positive basic emotion that is peacefully sorted by horizontal strips of colour. Only a red area in the bottom left corner of the painting breaks out of this peace that is supported by the happy orange stripe in the centre.

Painters use the yellows and reds at all times to mark and highlight happy, positive figures and emotions. Examples are the H1 Hieronymus in Marco Zoppo‘s Pesaro-Altar from 1471 or Karl Blechen‘s Bäume im Herbst bei Sonnenaufgang (autumnal trees at sunrise) from 1823 or Oskar Kokoschka‘s Spielende Kinder (playing children) from 1909 and Paul Klee‘s Bergdorf Herbstlich (mountain village, autumnal) from 1934.

This issue’s painting by Abel Martin, which is the creative result of forming an artistic idea and designing it with modern technology, is full of orange too. In a strict order that has been painstakingly sorted into a complementary harmony by the computer, this picture beams at us. Just orange!

Orange – a colour that has only existed for a century under this specific name: Goethe called it „yellowred“. Yellow and red are indeed the components of this colour, although their ratio varies greatly depending on the mixture. A small amount of light colour takes us into brown, the addition of white (according to colour theory) leads to apricot, a lot of red to vermillion and a dominance of yellow is called saffron (as written about in sisterMAG – article, issue 28-2/2017, p. 180).

The colour orange gets its name from the sweet-sour fruit of the same name. Its botanical name, citrus sinensis, hints at its Chinese origin. Explorers brought it to Europe via Portugal during the 15th century and it later reached Germany as „apple from China“. The orange is a cross between the clementine and the grapefruit. Huge plantations in Brazil, China and India (responsible for a third of the world’s supply) produce our beloved orange juice. In Europe, only Spain and Italy (Sicily) have memorably-sized plantations of this ever-green plant. The fruit is sold all year round while the natural season is between November and June. The orange is not only great at supplying vitamin C – a big one can supply the recommended daily intake of 75mg – it also contains lots of vitamin B1, folic acid and minerals like calcium.

All of this wasn’t known in the orange’s early days in Europe though, so that people used – and still use – it as decoration for tables, receptions and celebrations due to its comforting, warm colour.

The colour’s allegedly positive and stimulating attributes affect our spirit, soul and body. Warm, luminous orange increases our mood. It stimulates and induces appetite and digestion.

Orange is not just a colour that brings joy, conviviality and cheerfulness to individuals but by symbolising energy and drive, it is also used politically. In 2004, Wiktor Juschtschenko and his followers used orange to protest the rigged election of the Russia-friendly opposition during the presidential elections in Ukraine. Their repeated protests, demonstrations and strikes were called „Orange Revolution“.

But even centuries before the protests in Kiev, the colour orange had a political meaning: The reigning family of the Netherlands, Oranien-Nassau, was a result of the successful union between the lineage of Nassau and the principality of Oranien in 1530. In 1560, Wilhelm I of Oranien-Nassau (1533-1584) took over the principality, then occupied by France, and became the governor of the entire area under Spanish foreign rule. Under his rule, Netherland won its sovereignty which is why the „Oranjes“ still see him as the founder of their country.

Wilhelm III, Wilhelms great-grandson, beat the Catholic English king Jakob II in the battle of Boyne on July 11/12 1688. This way, the colour orange entered England and Ireland along with Protestantism. To this day, the Protestant Irish celebrate this win over their Catholic neighbours — a reason for centuries of conflict in Northern Ireland. The Irish flag contains green symbolising the Catholics, orange symbolising the Protestants and white in the middle symbolising peace between the two groups.

The name „Oranjes“ has historically also been used by the Netherland’s best footballers. Their results are mixed as a three time runner-up at the World Cup in 1974 and 1978 while they won the European championship in 2010 and 1988. After years of demise, they finally managed to be group champions of the new UEFA Nations League in 2018 with a win and tie against Germany.

Orange also helps us to gage everyday questions when it comes to yolk. Depending on the season, the saturated orange colour of the yolk shows us if the chicken had enough fresh air and grass. Deeply orange yolk during the winter time could signify that the animals have been fed additives that are forbidden in organic farming.

The colour orange is not everyone’s favourite. Its vivaciousness, its activity and energy-inducing properties can easily be understood as superficial, fake and intrusive. But either way it signals attention!

Pull-out cars, choppers, planes (easyJet) and highway assistance cars use this effect. Rightly so, advertising is following suit. Furniture, bikes, amplifiers, instruments, building parts from wood and stone and even the digital magazine Orange from the Handelsblatt use this challenging colour to get attention.

The colour orange had its heyday during the seventies. As an answer to the Vietnam War, rising terrorism and economic downturn, people wanted peace, sustainable treatment of the environment, music, sports and a free life. Orange was the right colour to outwardly show these feelings. Shrill, brave and flashy, orange raised its voice in fashion, furniture and application design.

The Pantone Matching System is a widespread system for sorting colours by the American company Pantone LLC.  Their normed colour systems help designers and printers around the world with a wide variety of colours. Every year, they choose a trend colour of the year. In 2019: Living Coral, a coral red mixed with orange. According to Pantone:  „An animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge”.

This sisterMAG issue 45 will provide you with plenty more ideas for more orange and coral tones at home and in your wardrobe. How much space this colour will take up and its influence on men’s fashion remains a hot topic!

I think I’ll keep my orange hat for 2019 and wear it at the sisterMAG office.