Color Schemes

A number of museums have recently worked with licensees or collaborators on products that feature a work of art’s color palette as the core design element. This is in contrast to incorporating a full representation of the original work or a pattern or element inspired by it, which is the traditional route taken by most museum-licensed products.

In the case of these recent initiatives, while the packaging or hangtags typically show an image of the museum piece, the product itself highlights the color palette alone. The subtle tie-in adds value for art aficionados in the know and represents a fresh take that is appealing to fans of museum-licensed merchandise. At the same time, it potentially could bring in consumers who do not normally seek out museum-branded goods.

Some examples:

  • As part of a multi-brand Met 150 collection to celebrate the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s anniversary, Allbirds created three limited-edition shoe styles last summer, each of which integrated the colors of a different painting. The Van Gogh shoe featured the colors (as well as emulating the signature brush strokes) of the artist’s olive groves; a distinctive blue and red pair took its cues from the mountain and sky in Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai’s “South Wind, Clear Sky”; and the third pair was inspired by the colors of Margareta Haverman’s 18th century Dutch flower arrangements.
  • The National Gallery, in London, licensed a leading instant noodle manufacturer in China to create three gift boxes containing everything consumers needed to create an entrée tied to a work of art in the museum. Ramen Talk, known for its quality ingredients, created basil chicken lotus seed pasta to mirror Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” Italian tomato beef pasta inspired by Monet’s “Water Lilies,” and mushroom bacon pasta with cream to mirror Gaugin’s “A Vase of Flowers.” In each case, the colored noodles emulated the dominant color of the painting, with the other ingredients also reflecting the work’s color scheme. Alfilo is the National Gallery’s agent in China.
  • The Van Gogh Museum announced last month it was collaborating with Talens, a Dutch art supply company, for a range of pen, pencil, and paint sets in the palettes of some of the institution’s works. Museum-branded art supply packs historically have contained a full range of color; in this case, only the colors that appear in the work featured on the box are included in the set. The products cross over several of Talens’ brands. They include five brush pens in the purples and yellows of “Irises,” under the Ecoline brand; a 12-color watercolor set tied to the complementary hues in “Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat” from the Van Gogh brand (Talens markets products under the Van Gogh and Rembrandt brands, among others); and four Pigma Micron Fineliners in the colors of “Flowering Plum Orchard,” a Van Gogh work inspired by the Japanese woodblock artist Hiroshige, under the Sakura brand.
  • The Louvre, which has upped its licensing activity during the pandemic as its physical space has had to be closed for long periods, paired with home goods designer Maison Sarah Lavoine in February of this year. Lavoine created a collection of 45 pieces, from pillows to tableware to candlesticks. Most feature solid colors or two-color geometric patterns inspired by the hues and shapes of the Jardin des Tuileries, the public garden located outside the museum. Designer Lavoine lives near the garden and visits almost daily.

Some licensors, particularly those closely associated with a particular color or color palette, have occasionally experimented with products tied to color alone, rather than integrating logos, characters, or imagery as is more traditional. This trend has been notable for several years—although it has been propelled by relatively infrequent examples—and it continues, with new efforts tied to corporate brands, fashion labels, or characters popping up every now and then. The approach is relatively new in the museum-licensing space, at least with so many examples in quick succession.

It should also be noted that museums in general have been expanding their licensing and collaboration activities since early 2020 as a way to keep their brands top of mind among consumers who haven’t been able to visit or haven’t felt comfortable doing so. Recently, the National Palace Museum in Taiwan retained Artistory as its licensing agency for North America and Europe, just the latest of several representation deals for museums and other cultural institutions signed in the past year or so.

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