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Mary Gartside (active 1781–1809) was an English water colourist and colour theorist. She published three books between 1805 and 1808. In chronological and intellectual terms Mary Gartside can be regarded an exemplary link between Moses Harris, who published his short but important Natural System of Colours around 1766, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s highly influential theory Zur Farbenlehre, first published in Germany in its complete form in 1810.[1] Gartside’s colour theory was published privately under the disguise of a traditional water colouring manual. Until well into the twentieth century, she remained the only woman known to have published a theory of colour. She exhibited some of her own art work, paintings of flowers in watercolour, at the Royal Academy in 1781 and at the Associated Artists in Water-Color in London in 1808.

Her work has recently been discussed by scholars such as Ian C. Bristow,[2] Ann Bermingham,[3] Martin Kemp,[4] Jean-Jacques Rosat [5] and Raphael Rosenberg.[6] In 2009, Alexandra Loske presented a paper on Gartside's life and work at a research conference in Lewes, United Kingdom.

In 2013 a copy of edition of An Essay on Light and Shade, on Colours, and on Composition in General was included in the exhibition Regency Colour and Beyond, 1785-1850 at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Curator Alexandra Loske produced a blog post about this rare book on the Royal Pavilion's official blog, in which all eight colour blots can be seen.


An Essay on Light and Shade, on Colours, and on Composition in General (London, 1805)
An Essay on a New Theory of Colours, and on Composition in General (London, 1808)
Ornamental Groups, Descriptive of Flowers, Birds, Shells, Fruit, Insects, &c., and Illustrative of a New Theory of Colouring (London, W. Miller, 1808)


Loske, Alexandra “Mary Gartside - A female colour theorist in Georgian England” in St Andrews Journal of Art History and Museum Studies 2010 Volume 14 pp. 17-30
Bristow, Ian C., Architectural Colour in British Interiors 1615-1840 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996)
Bermingham, Ann, Learning to Draw: Studies in the Cultural History of a Polite and Useful Art (New Haven, CT: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art/Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 215-227.
Kemp, Martin, The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat (New Haven and London: Yale, 1990)
Rosat,J. “Goethe’s Theory of Colours. Somewhere between science, art and philosophy” The Letter of the Collège de France (Letter 17), 25 November 2005
Rosenberg, R., and Max Hollein, Turner – Hugo – Moreau. Entdeckung der Abstraktion (Munich, Hirmer Verlag, 2006)

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