A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Sky Blue Pink with a Finny-Haddy Border

With better luck, this would have been a post about my trip on Saturday to the Durham Light Infantry Museum (that’s right, madam – in Durham), but I didn’t make it. After dithering over the weather forecast for an hour longer than I should have, I left home around 10am – Durham is about two and a half hours drive from here, and the museum is open 10:30 until 4pm.

The A1 in Northumberland, on a relatively dry day...
Alas, before I got to the border the rain was torrential, and it remained so – could hardly see through the spray, and I had the demister blowing so loud I couldn’t hear Wes Montgomery on the stereo. Not good. Near Stannington, not far north of Newcastle, there were some fairly routine roadworks, which required two lanes of the dual carriageway to merge into one, to be joined shortly afterwards by a busy slip road coming in from the left. Much too demanding for your average British motorist, I fear – no-one will give way; merging of traffic lanes is a simple process, screwed up by heroes (mostly in white 4WD BMWs, on Saturday) who insist on driving up the closed outside lane and forcing their way in at the bottleneck, thus gaining some 200 feet of priority in the queue, but stopping the whole thing dead. By the time I reached Washington services my Durham ETA had slipped by some 50 minutes, and the rain was coming on heavier again, after a brief lull. At best I could expect to get about an hour at the museum before it closed, and I was growing anxious about delays on the return trip. I had coffee and a piece of industrial chocolate cake at Washington, cast an expert eye at the lowering sky, and then headed for home, muttering. The weather and the traffic were both better than expected on the way back, in fact, and I survived to attempt the trip again in a week or two.

So – no news of Durham, and I wouldn’t recommend the chocolate cake.

Right – subject 2.

Painted miniature of an officer in the 1802 uniform
I am preparing to paint up another regiment for my 1809 Spanish army – this will be two battalions of the Regimiento de la Corona, and I intend to paint them in the 1802 regulation uniform, which involves jackets in what Godoy specified as deep sky blue – a shade which seems to be interpreted in a wide variety of ways. I have seen actual sky blue, and the Peter Bunde plates show it as a sort of royal blue. Hmmm.

Peter Bunde plate - not helped by the current state of my scanner
Any opinions on this? I was going to try for a sort of medium blue, not too psychedelic – my preferred options at present are a choice of two old Citadel colours which I have to hand - Ultramarine Blue, and Enchanted Blue – I have no idea what these are called now. I have the Cronin and Summerfield book, the Histoires et Collections volume on Ocaña and all the Bueno books for the period – inconclusive – in any case my colour vision is probably a bit dodgy anyway, but the problem with plates in books is that the reproduction is uncertain, and we don’t really know what the author intended.

So – Spanish soldiers, 1802 uniform – “deep-sky” jackets with black facings, edged red, red turnbacks, brass buttons – what do you reckon? What shade of blue? All clues welcome.


  1. Its mid day here and the sky is mostly light grey mottled with white, should it clear, I suspect that it would be a fairly pale blue with a touch of grey. Granted, these are Northern skies but I can't help feeling that whoever decided that a bright medium blue was "skyblue" had a very optimistic view of life.
    Which probably isn't much use in answering the question.

    1. I suppose that Godoy had seen skies in Spain - particularly at midday in the late Summer, or maybe in the evening, which were this sort of shade - no-one appears to have asked Godoy what the blazes he meant, so it must be more obvious in Mediterranean climes.

      There's also the little matter of people speaking Foreign - as soon as any military study requires someone to get close to (or skirt around) terminology in Foreign, us Brits and (especially) our American chums get very disoriented - this is one reason why English language histories of the Peninsular War very rarely made use of any Spanish sources until recently (apart from maybe Oman - and Southey, but we can ignore him). It's also why the uniform shade azul turqui, which is the vivid, royal blue used in, for example, the Chilean flag, is regularly described in translation as "turquoise", which does contain some of the same letters, and could, just conceivably, have the same origins if we keep one eye shut.

      It hadn't occurred to me that there is a little irony in my post - ruminating about the possible colour of the sky after discussion of a trip during which I never saw anything in the sky higher than about 50 metres. I regret that we in Britain spend very little time considering the state of the sky - unless we are fishermen we spend our lives with hands deep in pockets, staring at the pavement.

      Can't be too careful.

  2. The wonderful thing about Napoleonic uniforms is the sheer unpredictability of the colours. For some reason everyone insisted on using complex and unique descriptions for regulation colours. (Madder Red, for crying out loud. What's a "madder"? Madder than whom?). Then, even if everyone understood what the instruction meant, every dye batch came out a little different. Then they faded unevenly with wear. My point is, pick a nice shade of blue you like and that works at wargaming distance, and go with it.
    Since I don't see colours the way, say, someone who works for a paint company does (fifteen shades of white, really?), I just divide my units into ones with light blue, medium blue and dark blue, light red, medium red and dark red, yellow, orange and purple facings/jackets, and go from there. All subtle distinctions go out the window.

    1. I use this approach a lot - there are many circumstances in which we do not know exactly what the historical regulation means, whether the stated shade is a standard artist's paint colour, or just a dubious translation (or - nightmare - both). Commonsense and a bit of proportion are good things (on balance?). The "deep sky" issue is probably no more tricky than most colours I use, but I've been thinking about it for a while, and I've seen some pretty wild interpretations.

      Separate, though similar topic: I have on my desk copies of the old, and rather rare, booklets on the uniforms of the French army of the First Empire, by Richard K Riehn, published by Imrie/Risley, the model paint specialists, dating from 1959. There are official tables of facing colours in here - as long as you like, mentioning light orange, rose, lilac carmine, pink rose, madder red, amarante red, chamois and so on and so on. I am wondering what these colours represent - are these translations from Bardin? what, then? Are they Mr Riehn's attempt to describe something subtle? Are they the names of things in his paint box? Presumably he expects his readers to understand what he means.

      When we get to the list of facings for the 1807 white infantry uniforms it goes into another dimension - jonquil, violet, friar brown (ah, yes - in addition to my red shirt, midshipman, bring me my trousers of friar brown), and we have not even mentioned the infamous aurore. Then I think, aha - I know - these are actual Imrie/Risley shades! Well no, they aren't - there is a list of those in the back of the booklets, and there isn't a friar brown in sight, but there is an interesting little table showing how to use I/R's paint shades to get these wonders - amarante red is 6 parts red plus 1 part dark blue; madder red is 6 parts scarlet plus 5 parts orange. This is all looking good, but then it explains that carmine is the same as crimson (which presumably means I/R's Polish Crimson?) and it looks a bit approximate again.

      I think I'll paint my Spaniards with the Citadel Ultramarine - it's a little calmer than the other pot, and I once had a bad experience painting Portuguese with Plaka Blue - they were much brighter than I expected once they were varnished. Tricky colour, blue.

    2. I think you could paint them any shade of light blue you like... after the uniforms had been washed by being beaten against a rock in some stream, rained on, had food dripped on them, rolled in the mud, powder stained, and then patched, any relation to deep sky blue would be a thing distant in the memory... :o)

    3. Agreed - when you describe it like this, it sounds very like my son's school uniform.

  3. The DLI Museum ain't going anywhere so you'll get to try again another time I'm sure.

    1. Absolutely! - I have more doubts about the permanence of myself than of the museum. I've put a note to remind myself to go there soon.


To avoid spam and advertising material, comments are moderated on this blog, and will appear once I have seen them.