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Yves Klein: Les Monochromes de l'Époque Bleue (1955-1962)

International Klein Blue

Klein's discovery of the radiance of pure undissolved blue pigment, and the development of a method to apply this pigment to surfaces (International Klein Blue) gave rise to his "Blue Period". The IKB paintings create a very intense visual sensation with hallucinatory overtones. They pioneer a new art of "pure light". At the same time, they become conventionally figurative: they depict "cosmic space". The coincidence of visual intensity, literal depiction and mystic symbolism lends a certain Kitsch quality to these works.

Distrust all reproductions of IKB paintings. International Klein Blue is a stark, intense blue, without any hint of green, purple or grey. The visual effect of IKB cannot be reproduced on screens or in print; it must be experienced "in the flesh".

IKB 46, 1955

IKB 47, 1956

Untitled Sculpture, 1957

Globe Terrestre Bleu, 1957


Rouleau à Peindre, 1957

Yves Klein & Jean Tinguely: From the Exhibition:
"Vitesse Pure et Stabilité Monochrome", 1958

IKB (Godet), 1958

IKB 162, 1958

IKB 79, 1959

Exhibition Galerie Schirner, Frankfurt, 2004

IKB 86, 1959

IKB 66, 1961

My monochrome propositions are the landscapes of freedom. I am an impressionist and a disciple of Delacroix.

Yves Klein: Diary Entry, Chamonix, 1957 [Cited in Stich 1994, p. 104]

Alors que j'étais encore un adolescent, en 1946, j'allais signer mon nom de l'autre côté du ciel durant un fantastique voyage "réalistico-imaginaire". Ce jour-là, alors que j'étais étendu sur la plage de Nice, je me mis à éprouver de la haine pour les oiseaux qui volaient de-ci de-là dans mon beau ciel bleu sans nuage, parce qu'ils essayaient de faire des trous dans la plus belle et la plus grande de mes oeuvres.
Il faut détruire les oiseaux jusqu'au dernier. Alors, nous, les humains, auront acquis le droit d'évoluer en pleine liberté, sans aucune des entraves physiques ou spirituelles.

Klein's image of cosmic space is the cloudless day sky: the light of the sun as refracted by the atmosphere of our planet. It is a pre-Copernican (Aristotelian, earth-centered) image. Since Galileo, Pascal and Nietzsche, we know that the cosmos is empty, cold, and black. But we haven't quite digested this knowledge. The intuitive appeal of Klein's work shows the mediaeval undercurrent in twentieth-century culture.

Malevich (1920) disagrees with Klein and also with modern physics. He asserts: "La toile suprématiste représente l'espace blanc et non l'espace bleu. La raison en est claire: le bleu ne donne aucune représentation réelle de l'infini. Les rayons de la vue frappent dirait-on, sur une coupole et ne peuvent pénétrer dans l'infini. L'infini suprématiste blanc permet au rayons de la vue d'avancer sans rencontrer de limite." Note the archaic Greek physics: vision by means of active rays. This idea is obviously false. Nevertheless, it seems to have some phenomenological validity.

Chésaux (1744) and Olbers (1826) computed that in an infinite universe with a uniform distribution of stars, the sky should be as bright at night as during the day. This calculation (which would carry over to a static closed curved universe) is discussed by Clayton (1975) and Mandelbrot (1975). Mandelbrot concludes that the distribution of stars in the universe is not homogeneous, and proposes a particular fractal distribution.


Jean Philippe Loys de Chésaux: "Sur la Force de la Lumière et sa Propagation dans l'Éther, et sur la Distance des Étoiles Fixes." In: Traité de la Comète qui a Paru en Décembre 1743 et en Janvier, Février et Mars 1744. Lausanne: Marc-Michel Bousquet, 1744.

D.D. Clayton: Dark Night Sky. A Personal Adventure in Cosmology. New York: Quadrangle, 1975.

Patrice Deramaix: IKB Qu'est-ce qu'un monochrome? 2002

Kazimir Malevich: Suprématisme. 34 Dessins. Paris: Chêne, 1974. [Originally published in Russian (Vitebsk: Graphic Arts Studio, 1920). Translation by J.-C. & V. Marcadé.]

Benoît Mandelbrot: Les Objets Fractals: Forme, Hasard et Dimension. Paris: Flammarion, 1975.

W. Olbers: "Über die Durchsichtigkeit des Weltraums." Astronomisches Jahrbuch für das Jahr 1826, 150, pp. 110-121. Berlin: C.F.E. Späthen.

Sidra Stich: Yves Klein. Stuttgart: Cantz Verlag, 1994.

Student Projects

Project 1 (New Media Students (Technology Track)):
Find the optimal way to represent International Klein Blue on computer screens. Discuss the dependencies on different software platforms, video cards and monitor technologies.
(Note that for this project it is essential that you look at actual IKB paintings. Most major modern art museums have one. In the Netherlands, the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam) or the Van Abbe Museum (Eindhoven) might allow you access to their collection for this purpose.)

Wikipedia has an entry for International Klein Blue  which specifies RGB values etc., but the colour displayed there is much too subdued. (I last looked on December 1, 2005, employing a Sony 200 ES Trinitron screen with default Macintosh display settings.) The discussion about the entry reveals that the authors themselves are not completely sure either.

Project 2 (Art History Students (Restauration Track)):
Find the description of International Klein Blue and test it. (The pigment used for IKB is usually described as ultramarine, but the Guggenheim Museum's website maintains that it is cobalt-blue; I have also heard the claim that is a specific mixture between cobalt and ultramarine. You may find the answer in Mancusi-Ungaro (1982). The pigment is to be dissolved in a mixture of ethyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, and vinyl chloride resin, which at the time was marketed in France as Rhodopas M or M60A by the firm Rhône Poulenc (Stich, 1994, pp. 60/257).)

There is a persistent rumour that Klein patented International Klein Blue, but this is false. Weitemeier (2002, p. 17) displays an image which she describes as the patent, but it is merely an envelope. Riout (2006, pp. 62-65) explains that Klein submitted a simple registration which does not convey any exclusive rights (an "enveloppe Soleau") – and that this registration did not concern the method to achieve the IKB color, but the material used to fixate the pigment onto the canvas.

Gregory Aharonian: PIUG Posting, 21 February 2002.
Matthew Buckingham: "Colors/Ultramarine." In: Cabinet # 10, Spring 2003.
Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro: "A Technical Note on IKB." In: Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective. Houston: Rice University, Institute for the Arts, 1982, p. 258.
Denys Riout: La peinture monochrome. Histoire et archéologie d'un genre. Édition revue et augmentée. Paris: Gallimard, 2006.
Sidra Stich: Yves Klein. Stuttgart: Cantz Verlag, 1994, p. 60/257.
Hannah Weitemeier: Yves Klein. Taschen, 2002.

Piero Manzoni: Achromes (1957-1961)

In 1957, Piero Manzoni saw Yves Klein's monochrome paintings in Milano.
His answer was the achrome painting: no color, i.e., white.

Blue Sponges and Sponge Reliefs

Natural sponges soaked with IKB paint. (Symbols for the mystical state: the individual mind has absorbed inifinite cosmic space.)

Blue Harmony, 1960

Blue Sponge Relief


Pink Monochromes

Monochrome pink paintings re-present the after-images of the IKB paintings.

Ho, Ho! – 1960


Gold Leaf Monochromes



In twentieth-century Western culture, gold is a charged and ambiguous symbol. It is the Roman-Catholic sign of the Sacred, and the vernacular sign of the power of money (Bling Bling). The art-historical discourse about Yves Klein's work largely ignores these aspects, and focusses on the supposed meaning of gold in the semiotic system of mediaeval alchemy.

Note also: Klein's use of fireworks, balloons and pompous costumes.

"I shout it very loudly: 'KITSCH, CORN, BAD TASTE,' this is a new notion in ART. And while we are on the subject, let's forget art altogether! Great beauty is really true only if it has intelligently absorbed some 'AUTHENTIC BAD TASTE' with a touch of DISHONESTY." [Yves Klein: "Le vrai devient réalité." Reprinted in Zero (1973), p. 88.]

"À présent, je me sens particulièrement enthousiasmé par le "mauvais goût". J'ai la conviction intime qu'il existe là, dans l'essence même du mauvais goût, une force capable de créer des choses qui sont situées bien au-delà de ce que l'on appelle traditionnellement l'"oeuvre d'art". Je veux jouer avec la sentimentalité humaine, avec sa "morbidité", froidement et férocement."
[Yves Klein: Le Manifeste de l'Hôtel Chelsea, 1961.]

Student Project (New Media Students (Technology Track)): Find a way to represent the glittery property of gold and silver on a computer screen, by employing dynamic images. For optimal effect you may try to use non-intrusive motion-tracking devices which monitor the observer's head movements.

Reliefs Planétaires, 1961

Simulated moon-surfaces and 3D representations of sections of the earth's surface.

Lune I

Relief Planétaire 2 (Grenoble 41)


Relief Planétaire 18