Color Palettes of Famous Paintings

Vividly Colored Watercolor Pans
Deanna Kelly / Getty Images

Color is one of the most important elements of a painting. It is what we tend to notice first and can help convey depth, form, and emotion in a painting. Understanding how color works and which colors go well together can make a big difference in your painting.  

Sometimes, though, we painters can get in a color rut - we keep using the same color palette in all our paintings. While this can be useful in creating a unified body of work and having people recognize our paintings, using the same color palette can also become boring. Other times we may be having trouble figuring out the right color for a certain area of a painting, trying different colors only to have to wipe them off or paint over them.

When either of these happens it can be very helpful to pick up your old art books or go online to look at the artwork of the masters, paintings that are successful and in which the colors already work. Looking at the use of color in these paintings can help solve a problem in one of your own paintings, or open up a new range of colors that you might want to use.

Whether you work with local color (realistic color independent of light and shadow), perceived color (what the artist actually sees), or imaginary color (color used expressionistically), looking at the color palettes that other artists have used can help you find a solution to your own color dilemma.

Where to Find Color Palettes of Famous Paintings

Here are some sites that have identified the colors that some famous artists have used in their well-known paintings. The sites have used computer algorithms to identify the predominant colors in the paintings.

  • 35 Inspiring Color Palettes from Master Painters. The color palettes were determined using, which allows you to upload an image and receive a computerized version of the image's color palette based on computer algorithms. Although the computerized palettes sometimes overlook the accent color - albeit an important part of the painting - it is nevertheless an interesting exercise to see the colors of the painting identified and isolated.
  • 10 Free Color Palettes From 10 Famous Paintings breaks down the colors used in ten famous paintings: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, The Scream by Edvard Munch, The Last Supper by da Vinci, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, At The Optometrist by Norman Rockwell, The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, and Water Lilies by Claude Monet. 
  • Color Inspiration From the Masters of Painting, another article from, gives us the color breakdown of some additional paintings.

Limited Palettes

From these computerized palettes you will see that many paintings are done with a very limited palette (a palette with only a few colors). You do not need every color in your paintbox in order to create a successful painting. In fact, working with fewer colors will help create unity in your painting.   

Using the computer as an aid for painting is not taboo. Rather think of it as just another tool to help you express your vision and create meaningful artwork.