What Art History Tells Us About Pantone’s Color of the Year 2023

Viva Magenta Pantone featured image

If a color exists, the Pantone Color Institute has cataloged it. The American company is well known for its Pantone Matching System, which is the color-matching system generally held in highest regard across the world. In this system, every known shade and hue is assigned a number to go with its name. 

Every year, Pantone chooses one of these hues as its color of the year to reflect the current state of the world. This announcement often leads people to explore art that includes this color. The announcement typically receives abundant press coverage and influences a year’s worth of fashion, interior design, and other forms of artistry. 

The Pantone Color of the Year for 2023 is Viva Magenta — or, known by its full color-matching name, Pantone 18-1750 Viva Magenta. Below is a guide to the Pantone Color of the Year 2023 and its place in art history. 

Why is the Pantone Color of the Year 2023 Viva Magenta?

For 2023, a year dominated by discussion of artificial intelligence, Pantone chose the plant dye-derived Viva Magenta. Its background, according to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, suggests a desire to leave the digital world for the natural realm. In her statement accompanying the announcement of the Pantone Color of the Year 2023, she said the following.

“In this age of technology, we look to draw inspiration from nature and what is real. … Rooted in the primordial, PANTONE 18-1750 Viva Magenta reconnects us to original matter. Invoking the forces of nature, PANTONE 18-1750 Viva Magenta galvanizes our spirit, helping us to build our inner strength.”

This statement points to how Viva Magenta reconnects us to original life — a time before the pressures and artificial online universes of this unconventional time.

Magenta’s Place in Art History

In 1856, the British chemist Wiliam Perkin created the first synthetic aniline dye, mauveine. Other chemists took cues from this synthetic purple dye, including France’s François-Emmanuel Verguin and Great Britain’s George Maule and Edward Chambers Nicholson. In 1859, all these chemists patented a dye — one that mixed crimson red and vivid pink — that eventually became known as magenta. 

The use of the word “magenta” to name this dye came from the word’s prevalence in Europe shortly after the 1959 Battle of Magenta. In this battle, named after an Italian town, French-Sardinian forces emerged victorious against Austrian troops. This battle, which was part of the Second Italian War of Independence, was known to be especially bloody. 

As such, the word “magenta” became associated with vivid red and pink hues, making it a perfect name for the new dye. In the century-plus since, magenta has become prevalent in numerous stunning works of art.

Famous Examples of Magenta in Art

Below are some of the most famous examples of magenta in art — including a painting of the battle that gave the color its name.

Gerolamo Induno, ‘The Battle of Magenta’

Gerolamo Induno - The Battle of Magenta.

Gerolamo Induno – The Battle of Magenta, 1859. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although this painting by the Italian painter Gerolamo Induno depicts the battle that gave magenta its name, no magenta hues are in the painting. Induno’s work is nevertheless breathtaking and key to the history of magenta. It provides a highly realistic perspective on the Battle of Magenta without any abstraction or surrealism. The scene evokes the brokenness that follows a battle, contrasting a blue sky with corpses, violence, and smoke. It hints at why the battle was shocking enough to result in a color being named after it.

Mark Rothko, ‘No. 3/No. 13 (Magenta, Black, Green on Orange)’

Mark Rothko, ‘No. 3/No. 13 (Magenta, Black, Green on Orange),’ 1949.

Mark Rothko – ‘No. 3/No. 13 (Magenta, Black, Green on Orange),’ 1949. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mark Rothko, ‘No. 3/No. 13 (Magenta, Black, Green on Orange),’ 1949

The abstract painter Mark Rothko created this 1949 piece, which comprises colored rectangles against an orange background, on oil on canvas. The very top rectangle in the piece, a narrow strip, is entirely magenta. 

Rothko painted this piece shortly after his mother died in 1948, and he was known to create art during periods of intense sadness or happiness. Considered by many to be his masterpiece, this painting is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Nickolas Muray, ‘Frida Kahlo with Magenta Rebozo’

Nickolas Murray - Frida Coyoacan, 1938.

Nickolas Murray – Frida Coyoacan, 1938. Coming to auction on Invaluable – June 25, 2023 via White Knight Auctions (Est: $400 USD – $600 USD).

When asked with whom the highly influential Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was romantically linked, many people might name the Mexican painter Diego Rivera. However, she also had a 10-year affair with the Hungarian painter Nickolas Muray, not to mention other figures such as Leon Trotsky and Georgia O’Keeffe. The latter’s photograh of Kahlo wearing a magenta rezobo may well be his most remembered work. 

Muray positioned Kahlo within his canvas so that her rezobo’s vivid magenta would lie at the very center of his photography. Every detail of Muray’s portrait, though, is stunning, depicting Kahlo in all her human beauty. Although Muray and Kahlo’s affair ended at some point after this portrait, they stayed friends until Kahlo’s death in 1954.

Richard Anuszkiewicz, ‘Soft Magenta Square’

Richard Anuszkiewicz - Soft Magenta Square,’ 1979.

Richard Anuszkiewicz – Soft Magenta Square,’ 1979. Auction passed (Est: $30,000 USD – $40,000 USD) via Christie’s (May 2010).

The American contemporary artist Richard Anuszkiewicz is most commonly associated with the Op Art movement. His 1979 painting ‘Soft Magenta Square’ may give the illusion of oscillating movement. 

‘Soft Magenta Square’ features a large, vivid magenta square at its center, with what appear to be walls and a ceiling and floor surrounding it. The walls, floor, and ceiling all include lines that move from the square outward to the frame. These lines, combined with the square’s blurry pink corners, may evoke a sense of motion when none is occurring.

Patrick Heron, Magenta Series 

Patrick Heron - Two Magenta Discs in Dark Red.

Patrick Heron – Two Magenta Discs in Dark Red. Auction passed (Est: ¥100,000 JPY – ¥150,000 JPY) via Mallet Auction (July 2011).

British artist Patrick Heron, associated with the St Ives School, was known for his exploration of color and form. He produced a series of vibrant and expressive prints featuring magenta as a prominent color which exemplify his bold and dynamic approach to composition..

Heron’s magenta prints often incorporate geometric shapes, overlapping forms, and intricate patterns. The use of magenta, creates a sense of vibrant warmth and energy. The color is applied with varying degrees of transparency and opacity, allowing for a range of tonal values and visual depth.

Long live Viva Magenta

Viva Magenta, Pantone’s Color of 2023, was chosen at a time when many feel a disconnect from the natural world because it can evoke a vivid emotional response. If you’re looking for more vibrant magenta in your life, maybe consider travels to locations such as Mediterranean countries with bountiful bougainvillea. Alternatively, keep an eye out for magenta furniture and decorative art to add a pop of color to your room.