In ‘The Days Before Selfies’ if you wanted to record something your options were limited.
You could describe it (which relied of a common basis of colour reference), you could hire an artist (of varying quality, and of course in oils if you had the money) or you could do it yourself with watercolour sketching (cheapish, portable, reasonably quick, and easier to safely transport finished work).
It was a skill developed by virtually anyone with any claim to more than basic education. Used to record coastline reference for sailing ships, as momentoes of exotic locales by traders and travellers, by gardeners recording special plants, by homebound and fashionable for family and society, at least a basic ability was assumed (even if abandoned as soon as possible!).
The need was not limited to ‘art’. Scientists of all kinds in the age of inquiry used it to show their travels, their excavations of ancient sites (and what would now, in many cases, be called their wholesale looting of them), new species and the oddities of rock formations as roads and railways were carved through countryside. Werner’s was published in 1814. It was not the first of its kind - or the last - but it found a niche among a subset of scientists, explorers, and travellers which garnered it lasting fame for (among others) its place on Charles Darwins voyages.
Werner’s was published in 1814. It was not the first of its kind – or the last – but it found a niche among a subset of scientists, explorers, and travellers which garnered it lasting fame for (among others) its place on Charles Darwins voyages.
(This reproduction is taken from and 1821 copy held by the British Museum Of Natural History)
Based on the 1790s work of Abraham Werner, Patrick Syme created the colour charts reproduced in this book and created a reliable visual reference. One of the things I find most fascinating are the descriptions of colour-mixing
Apple Green, is emerald green mixed with a little greyish white
Animal: Underside of Wings of Green Brown Moth
Leafing through this is a fascinating insight into a different time, and garners an appreciation of just how important the ability to reliably record things was before photography became the near universal method.
Werner’s Nomenclature of colourh