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Discovering Yves Klein and the Caran d’Ache Klein Blue Collection

Blue. The color of “royal blood” and the color of the sky. Often we associate blue with positivity and prosperity, like in Ella Fitzgerald’s song “Blue skies”. Blue has also always been my favorite color since I was a little child and I think it’s not a surprise if blue is often taken by artist as a color to base their works on. The most representative artist in this area was for sure Yves Klein. Let’s discover his story and the Caran D’Ache Klein Blue collection dedicated to his color, International Klein Blue.

Yves Klein (28 April 1928 – 6 June 1962) was a French artist and an important figure in post-war European art. He was a leading member of the French artistic movement of Nouveau réalisme founded in 1960 by art critic Pierre Restany. Klein was a pioneer in the development of performance art, and is seen as an inspiration to and as a forerunner of minimal art, as well as pop art. Born in Nice and child of 2 painters, Klein received no formal training in art, but his parents exposed him to different styles. His father was a figurative style painter, while his mother had an interest in abstract expressionism. From 1942 to 1946, Klein studied at the École Nationale de la Marine Marchande and the École Nationale des Langues Orientales. At this time, he became friends with Claude Pascal and started to paint.

Although Klein had painted monochromes as early as 1949, and held the first private exhibition of this work in 1950, his first public showing was the publication of the artist’s book Yves Peintures in November 1954. Parodying a traditional catalogue raisonné, the book featured a series of intense monochromes linked to various cities he had lived in during the previous years. Yves Peintures anticipated his first two shows of oil paintings, at the Club des Solitaires, Paris, October 1955 and Yves: Proposition monochromes at Gallery Colette Allendy, February 1956. Public responses to these shows, which displayed orange, yellow, red, pink and blue monochromes, deeply disappointed Klein, as people went from painting to painting, linking them together as a sort of mosaic.

From the reactions of the audience, [Klein] realized that…viewers thought his various, uniformly colored canvases amounted to a new kind of bright, abstract interior decoration. Shocked at this misunderstanding, Klein knew a further and decisive step in the direction of monochrome art would have to be taken…From that time onwards he would concentrate on one single, primary color alone: blue. The Klein Blue was born!

The next exhibition, ‘Proposte Monocrome, Epoca Blu’ at the Gallery Apollinaire, Milan, in January 1957, featured 11 identical blue canvases, using ultramarine pigment suspended in a synthetic resin ‘Rhodopas’, described by Klein as “The Medium”. Discovered with the help of Edouard Adam, a Parisian paint dealer, the optical effect retained the brilliance of the pigment which, when suspended in linseed oil, tended to become dull. Klein later deposited a Soleau envelope for this recipe to maintain the “authenticity of the pure idea.” This colour, reminiscent of the lapis lazuli used to paint the Madonna’s robes in medieval paintings, was to become known as International Klein Blue. 

Interesting thing, the paintings were attached to poles placed 20 cm away from the walls to increase their spatial ambiguities. All 11 of the canvases were priced differently and the buyers would go through the gallery, observing each canvas and purchase the one that was deemed best in their own eyes specifically. Klein’s idea was that each buyer would see something unique in the canvas that they bought that other buyers may not have seen. So while each painting visually looked the same, the impact each had on the buyer was completely unique.

An incredible story, that has fascinated me as soon as I have seen the Caran D’Ache collection dedicated to this wonderful color. By the way, the color itself was developed by Yves Klein in collaboration with Edouard Adam, a Parisian art paint supplier whose shop is still in business on the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet in Montparnasse. IKB uses a matte, synthetic resin binder which suspends the color and allows the pigment to maintain as much of its original qualities and intensity of color as possible. The synthetic resin used in the binder is a polyvinyl acetate developed and marketed at the time under the name Rhodopas M or M60A by the French pharmaceutical company Rhône-Poulenc. Adam still sells the binder under the name “Médium Adam 25”.

Klein Blue items
During my researches, I have seen that in the 1990’s, Audemars Piguet created a Royal Oak, ref. 14790ST with a Klein Blue Dial. A stunning piece in 36mm diameter that is highly collectible since not many pieces have been produced. So Klein Blue has always attracted luxury brands and has been regularly applied to beautiful products. The latest Caran D’Ache Klein Blue Collection makes no exception. Starting from the immortal 849 Ballpoint with the nice metal case over the Fixpencil, loved by artists and finally landing on the iconic Léman Fountain Pen, the collection is really predestinated to become a loved item to use as a gift during this year’s holiday season.

One of the most stunning items of the collection is for sure the metal sharpening machine that reminds me of the machine my teacher at primary school used to have on his table. So solid, so useful and so mechanic. A real must have for pencil users. Talking about pencils, there is, of course, also a big HB maxi graphite pencil, to sketch or a set of 4 regular graphite pencils that would perfectly match the sharpening machine on your desk.

Discover the collection under and remember that blue stays for positivity and prosperity. Happy week to everyone.

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