The colors of paintings and viewers’ preferences

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  • Authors:
  • Sérgio M.C. Nascimento
  • João M.M. Linhares
  • Cristina Montagner
  • Catarina A.R. João
  • Kinjiro Amano
  • And 2 others
  • External authors:
  • Catarina Alfaro
  • Ana Bailão


One hypothesis to explain the aesthetics of paintings is that it depends on the extent to which they mimic natural image statistics. In fact, paintings and natural scenes share several statistical image regularities but the colors of paintings seem generally more biased towards red than natural scenes. Is the particular option for colors in each painting, even if less naturalistic, critical for perceived beauty? Here we show that it is. In the experiments, 50 naïve observers, unfamiliar with the 10 paintings tested, could rotate the color gamut of the paintings and select the one producing the best subjective impression. The distributions of angles obtained are described by normal distributions with maxima deviating, on average, only 7 degrees from the original gamut orientation and full width at half maximum just above the threshold to perceive a chromatic change in the paintings. Crucially, for data pooled across observers and abstract paintings the maximum of the distribution was at zero degrees, i.e., the same as the original. This demonstrates that artists know what chromatic compositions match viewers’ preferences and that the option for less naturalistic colors does not constrain the aesthetic value of paintings.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-84
JournalVision Research
Early online date10 Dec 2016
StatePublished - Jan 2017