Traditional or Classical Colour Palette

Although fancy and new colours in our local art shop are enchanting, I always tried to stay close to the ‘Traditional Palette’ of the masters of the Dutch Golden Age. Take Rembrandt, his original palette consisted of ochres, umbers, and siennas. Rembrandt used lead white, which for health reasons, is replaced with other whites, for instance titanium white. Or take Maria van Oosterwijck (1630-1693). Here she is, holding her palette. Which colours do we see?

Maria van Oosterwijck
Maria van Oosterwijck

Maria van Oosterwijk shows on her palette. She holds seven pencils with sharp tips, they probably have all different tops for her exquisite and highly detailed floral still-lifes. As for the colours, from top to bottom, I spot Lead White, Ochre, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Red, Deep Red, Ultramarine Blue (green shade), and Deep Green. (Please, feel invited to upload your educated guess in the comment section; we can learn from each other).


One may feel puzzled how such exquisite artwork is done with so few colours but the secret is simple: the art of mixing. Have a look, for instance, at the website of Natural Earth Paint and enjoy studying their mixing chart (click here). Notice how a variety of colours can derive from so few colours only!

With the advance of paint production came healthier paints but also fancier colours. Earth pigments were complemented with synthetic paints. Some colours still carry traditional names like Titan Golden Ochre, but others go by fancier names like Delfts Blue.


I never buy fancy colours with enchanting names in our local art store whereas my neighbour, who loves to paint modern and abstract, finds it good fun to add newly developed colours to his palette. There is no right or wrong here, just preferences.

I hear the remarks made by my former teacher inside my head warning against wasting money on fancy colours. My teacher explained how fancy colours can lead to dirty mixes and vulgar results, leaving a messy and unprofessional impression and how they clash with classical colours. I understood what he said; ever since I have been religious with his advice.

There are more reasons for remaining loyal to a classical palette apart from a harmonious colour chart obtained through mixing. One gets so familiar with the colours that mixing does not require consulting charts, and should you have to restore a part of your painting, it is easy to analyse which colours you have used. But most of all, avoid frivolity and vulgarity. There is no need for short cuts or buying harsh colours. I rest my case now but not before letting Maria van Oosterwijck’s art convince you.

Maria van Oosterwijck's Foral Painting
Maria van Oosterwijck’s Floral Bouquet

I have made a downloadable PdF with all names of the classical/traditional palette. In the past, I had this free available but renewing and maintaining a website has become so expensive, that I need to ask a very small contribution to my work.

Should Paypal not work for you, please, hop over to my shop where you can buy it as well. You will have the colours instantly available. Should you like to pay with Paypal, follow up here:

File with a List of the Traditional or Classical Colours

This is a file that I will send to your email as soon as your payment has come through. Store it well! May I advise not with general tag words like Colour or Colours but use Traditional or Classical too. This list will help you during your visit to your local art shop where fancy colours will enchant you buying colours you do not really need. Why? Because with the traditional colour palette you can generate beautiful and harmonious colours all the way. Let us call it wisdom from our artistic ancestors.


Published by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Welcome to this website that is full of art, art-musings, reflections, diary entries, literature, art-history, and more. I am Paula Kuitenbrouwer and I am a freehand-drawing & commission artist. Art is often seen as a luxury but when it comes to joyful, sad, or memorable events we are in need for art. Please, feel free discussing commissioned art with me. I was taught drawing and painting by Spanish-Dutch artist Charito Crahay and Dutch artist Johan Kolman. I have studied Philosophy at the University of Utrecht & Amsterdam; currently I live with my husband and daughter in the Netherlands.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer at work (2023)
Paula Kuitenbrouwer at work.


%d bloggers like this: