Behind the scenes: Joa and The National Portrait Gallery

Written on 31st July 2023

Today we’re catching up with Joa Studholme, Colour Curator for Farrow & Ball, to talk all about the National Portrait Gallery in London. From choosing colours that complement the art to her favourite finished space, keep reading to find out more about this incredible project.

Tell us about the project

This has been a very long project, lasting over three years. In the construction stage, the National Portrait Gallery came to Farrow & Ball and talked to us about doing a collaboration. And what a perfect fit, to take the famous white walls of this beautiful, beautiful building and fill them with Farrow & Ball colour.

The palette of colours we put together are very well balanced, but they offer unique opportunities to create different atmospheres and evoke different emotions. And in much the same way as artists choose colours for their canvases, I think that's the way we choose colours for our homes, and they just give a little bit of visual language.


What did you have to consider when choosing the colours?

Well, when considering the colours for the gallery, there were many things to think about but of course the most important thing is that the art had to be the star. I thought about it, in some ways, very much like a home. It's about traveling through a space, so the hallways are quite neutral which leads you to these very saturated galleries off it which are in Brinjal, Green Smoke and Charleston Gray and it was important that that flowed.

So, the hallway is in Dove Tale, which is a soft grey but has a little underlying lilac, as does Brinjal, as does Charleston Gray. So exactly like we do in our homes, we can layer up these colours together nicely.

We all know those colours work well together, because they're the colours of the humble aubergine, and nature rarely gets it wrong.

Do you have any tips for people choosing colours to sit alongside artwork in their own homes?

I think it's quite a controversial subject because some people want to match their artwork with their walls, and I think that's probably not quite the right thing to do. Having said that, I did take inspiration from this extraordinary portrait of the Bronte sisters, painted by their naughty brother Patrick 200 years ago, and in that, it does have similar colours to Green Smoke and Brinjal and it's absolutely beautiful the way they sit together.

One little tip, though, if you're worrying about hanging art on a colour, you can always create your own border for a painting with a sample pot in a colour you've taken from that picture so that it divorces it slightly from the wall.


What’s your favourite colour in the gallery?

It's so difficult to say what's my favourite because the colours are used for different reasons in different areas. In fact, I think something which is really interesting and very, very significant is the use of Cornforth White in the historic staircase, because that is a colour that's perceived to be very, very contemporary.

But in fact, we chose it for two reasons. One, because it's very easy on the eye — it's part of our Relaxed Neutrals group. And two, because it sat seamlessly with the oceans and oceans of marble that have been there for ever. And I love that you've got a contemporary colour in a very historic building.

What’s your favourite piece of artwork in the gallery?

My favourite in the gallery, I think, is the portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst. It's incredibly soft in style, but there's something about that steely reserve that you see in her eye, and it's hung against the very strong Brinjal. I have a feeling she'd really like that.

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