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Millennial pink – love it or loathe it – is a thing.

If you haven’t come across it yet, let me introduce you. Millennial pink is a colour, but no-one can decide exactly what it looks like, so it might be closer to the pink above, or below. It’s similar to the official Pantone ‘pale dogwood’ or possibly ‘rose quartz’. It is plastered all over Tumblr and Instagram, it simultaneously adorns catwalk models and the walls of your local hipster café. It could be the colour of a mediterranean hotel, it could be the mug you drink coffee from, your jacket, your phone, your plant pots. It’s the colour of rosé wine and cherry blossom and has been co-opted to sell frozen drinks and cupcakes. And it has become emblematic of the most-studied generation in history, the millennials (roughly speaking, those born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s).

How has a colour come to represent a whole generation? Back in the heady days of late 2015, Pantone announced that ‘rose quartz’ and ‘serenity’ would be their colours of 2016, determining them the colours that ‘best represent the current zeitgeist’. The VP of the Pantone Colour Institute cited the increased anxieties of our current age and claimed that these two pastel-y shades exuded wellness. This decision helped to solidify a trend that was already well underway. Instagram is partly responsible: millennial pink is bright, and looks good on any number of favourite Instagram subjects, from book covers to healthy breakfasts. A pretty Instagram feed is enhanced by bright, on-trend colours. And in a world where the Instagrammable credentials of your food and drink can be as important as how they taste, millennial pink is queen...

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...and king: one of the colour’s much-celebrated qualities is its androgyny. Millennial pink has crossed gender boundaries, popping up in both women’s and men’s fashion, helping to dispel the ‘blue for boys, pink for girls’ dogma that has been in place since the early 1900s – it’s just as likely to be seen on Harry Styles as Cara Delevigne.

In an unashamed attempt to relate art history to the Tumblr trends of today, let’s find some examples of artists who got to millennial pink before it was cool.

Celebrity endorsement

There is a spectrum of celebrities showing off their zeitgeist-y credentials in millennial pink. At one end is Rihanna's hair, Harry Styles' suit and Drake's puffer jacket. At the other is Theresa May's holiday sundress.

Celebrity author of her day Agatha Christie looks deceptively innocent as she rocks the colour in this portrait, which depicts her while she was still Agatha Miller. No doubt under the frothy pink she's dreaming up stories of train-based suspense and murderous butlers.

But the most high-profile celebrity endorsement on Art UK is none other than the Queen. Ever fashion-forward, she was wearing millennial pink back in the 1950s and smartly accessorising with a crown. The shade also has contemporary royal endorsement, in the form of the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Charlotte.

Furniture and decor

Restaurants and cafés keen for promotion via blogs and social media have figured out one way to get photos taken: make everything pink. Literally, everything: the chairs, tables, crockery, ceiling and walls, and in some cases, the food and drink. 

However, Jean-Edouard Vuillard got there around 1910 with La chambre rose.

La chambre rose (The Pink Bedroom)

La chambre rose (The Pink Bedroom) c.1910–1911

Jean-Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940)

Henri Matisse depicted a millennial pink tablecloth.

The Pink Tablecloth

The Pink Tablecloth c.1924–1925

Henri Matisse (1869–1954)

And Anne Redpath shows off real millennial credentials with her painting, which could be an Instagram post in itself: the carefully-placed Penguin paperback, the pretty crockery and the greenery setting off the pink beautifully. 

The Pink Table

The Pink Table

Anne Redpath (1895–1965)

Plants

Millennial pink is often used as a backdrop to greenery. The colours go together well – if you like that sort of thing – to the extent that there is a 96,000 follower-strong Instagram dedicated to ‘plants on pink’.

Sidney Herbert Sime was ahead of his time depicting #plantsonpink and with his use of millennial pink to create an evening's dusky sky. 

Trees and Pink Sky

Trees and Pink Sky

Sidney Herbert Sime (1865–1941)

These millennial pink peonies are one of the few still lifes Pissarro created during his career. They were painted in 1873, not long after Pissarro's first stay in London, during which time he met Monet and the seeds of French Impressionism were sown. 

Bouquet of pink Peonies

Bouquet of pink Peonies 1873

Camille Pissarro (1830–1903)

Victor Pasmore's close-up millennial pink roses were painted shortly before he started to develop his painting style, moving away from figurative studies and towards abstract art.

Pink Roses

Pink Roses 1944

Victor Pasmore (1908–1998)

Clothes

Michelle Obama may be the most high-profile sartorial endorsement of millennial pink to date, making a conference speech clad in pink. The colour crops up frequently in paintings: starting with Fragonard’s The Swing, and then carrying on in women’s dress in a variety of shades. The search ‘pink dress’ currently returns 122 paintings on Art UK, if you’d like to see them all up together, so here we’ve just picked out a small smorgasbord of the millennial pink that has apparently been in the zeitgeist a lot longer than Instagram has been around.

The Swing

The Swing 1767

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806)

Albert Joseph Moore fell under the spell of Japonisme, which is evident in this piece. The single, flat colour and the cherry blossoms in the background are indicative of Japanese influence.  

Blossoms

Blossoms 1881

Albert Joseph Moore (1841–1893)

Meanwhile, James McBey was clearly struck by the sights and the people of North Africa – post-World War Two, he divided his time between Morocco, the USA and London, and eventually settled in Tangier. His paintings of Ouarzazate and Marrakesh make use of an orangey-pink to depict Moroccan towns and buildings (and his wife is decked out in a similar colour). He captures a close millennial pink here as worn by a woman from Marrakesh.

El Marrakeshia

El Marrakeshia 1936

James McBey (1883–1959)

Houses

Those who have made efforts to trace millennial pink’s popularity back to a definitive starting point have alighted on Wes Anderson’s 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel. The eponymous hotel is done out partly in the colour, and the film’s palette is awash with it.

Pink buildings are picturesque, and dreamy, and usually speak of somewhere bathed in far more sunlight than Britain: perfect Instagrammable, humblebrag material.

Pink House on a Hill

Pink House on a Hill 1947

Felix Runcie Kelly (1914–1994)

Monet painted a whole series dedicated to Rouen Cathedral. Each painting was made at a different time of day, the changing light casting the building in completely different colours: and as the name suggests, this painting was made at sunset. It's the only one in the series we have on Art UK: the others are scattered all over the world, from the USA to Japan. 

It's impossible to say how long millennial pink will stick around. There have already been numerous attempts to declare that it's finished and a new colour is taking over: maybe it's bright red, or yellow, or green. If anything, paintings show us how fickle these trends can be, disappearing and re-appearing multiple times throughout history, so it's safe to say that even when millennial pink falls by the wayside, it'll be back again one day.

Until then, you just have to decide how much pink you can stomach, and maybe give yourself the occasional brunch break somewhere with magnolia walls instead.

Molly Tresadern, Art UK Content Creator and Marketer

Did you know?
  • This generation is not the first to be enamoured with pink: the 1950s in the USA saw an explosion of 'Mamie pink', named after First Lady Mamie Eisenhower
  • The White House was jokingly known as 'the pink palace' during Eisenhower's time in office, thanks to Mamie's fondness for pink interior design
  • Pantone's official colour of the year for 2017 is 'greenery', which is meant to be 'symbolic of new beginnings'