Before Technicolor: Early Color on Film

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
11 West 53rd Street
The earliest color films were made around 1895, when new, synthetically produced dyes transformed the nature of color in mediums such as postcards, magic lantern slides, and fabrics. For moviegoers and critics of the period, color added to films shot... more
The earliest color films were made around 1895, when new, synthetically produced dyes transformed the nature of color in mediums such as postcards, magic lantern slides, and fabrics. For moviegoers and critics of the period, color added to films shot in black and white was an attractive “special effect.” In the decades before Technicolor proved capable of reproducing a full spectrum of colors closer to those of the real world, colorists indulged in the imaginative possibilities of the techniques available to them. Far from a foregone conclusion, color in film was an accent, an opportunity for artistry and experimentation. Writing in 1931, the filmmaker and historian Paul Rotha went so far as to claim that color “is unnecessary in the dramatic theatrical film” and “definitely diminishes appeal.” Color, he continued, “must always remain a speculation from a commercial point of view…a white elephant to the cinematic medium.”Recalling this “forgotten history,” this gallery installation of nine cinema works from MoMA’s collection introduces a number of early systems that were used to reproduce color on celluloid. Focused on films produced in the United States and France from the mid-189... more
The earliest color films were made around 1895, when new, synthetically produced dyes transformed the nature of color in mediums such as postcards, magic lantern slides, and fabrics. For moviegoers and critics of the period, color added to films shot in black and white was an attractive “special effect.” In the decades before Technicolor proved capable of reproducing a full spectrum of colors closer to those of the real world, colorists indulged in the imaginative possibilities of the techniques available to them. Far from a foregone conclusion, color in film was an accent, an opportunity for artistry and experimentation. Writing in 1931, the filmmaker and historian Paul Rotha went so far as to claim that color “is unnecessary in the dramatic theatrical film” and “definitely diminishes appeal.” Color, he continued, “must always remain a speculation from a commercial point of view…a white elephant to the cinematic medium.”

Recalling this “forgotten history,” this gallery installation of nine cinema works from MoMA’s collection introduces a number of early systems that were used to reproduce color on celluloid. Focused on films produced in the United States and France from the mid-1890s through the mid-1930s, the exhibition features a suite of hand-colored Butterfly and Serpentine dance films from the 1890s; the stencil-colored L’Antre Infernal (1905) and La voix du rossignol (1923); experimental Technicolor tests (1933–35), including one with actress Katharine Hepburn as Joan of Arc; and Sunshine Gatherers (1921), an advertisement for canned fruit shot in Prizma color. Digitally restored by the Department of Film in 2019, these are among the most engaging works that were acquired by the Museum’s Film Library around the time of its founding in the 1930s.

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Before Technicolor: Early Color on Film

Mon, May 27
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
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Tue, May 28
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Wed, May 29
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Thu, May 30
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Fri, May 31
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Sat, June 01
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Sun, June 02
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Mon, June 03
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Tue, June 04
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Wed, June 05
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Thu, June 06
10:30AM
$
$30 - Adults
$22 - Seniors
$17 - Students
Children (16 and under): Free

Advance purchase of tickets is required to guarantee entry. Visitors who
book tickets online save $2 per ticket.

Special exhibitions, audio programs, films, and gallery talks are included in the price of admission.
Free admission for New York City residents on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Get Tickets
Occurs 45 more times through Jul 21

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 708-9400
Website

Schedule

May 27, Mon 10:30AM - 5:30PM
May 28, Tue 10:30AM - 5:30PM
May 29, Wed 10:30AM - 5:30PM
May 30, Thu 10:30AM - 5:30PM
See complete schedule

Admission From

$15

Category

Arts

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