There's an age-old debate in the Chess world over whether Black or White is the "superior" colour. Because White makes the first move, White wins an overwhelming percentage of the time. But what if both sides were Grandmasters? Would there still be a colour advantage, or would every game end in a stalemate? The Surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp found his own way to break free of this philosophical "gray area." In 1920, he invented a colour version of his favorite board game in an attempt to turn Chess into an artistic activity.
Duchamp's colour choices weren't arbitrary. Indeed, as Duchamp expert Francis Naumann points out, the colour of each piece served as a "continuous visual reminder of its movement and strategic power." Duchamp's two Rooks were light blue and dark blue. The Bishops were light and dark yellow. As the Queen is a combination of the Rook and Bishop (in terms of power and movement), she blended blue and yellow to form light and dark green. The Knights, sharing no characteristics with other chessmen, were light and dark red. Kings were white and black, and pawns were also white and black.
Naumann notes that Duchamp compared the black and white game of chess to a "pen and ink drawing," likening chess players to painters who created black and white artwork out of pre-existing forms. "Extending Duchamp's analogy," Naumann suggests, "we could then say that playing on the chromatic set would be the equivalent of drawing in color."
Though eyewitnesses recorded seeing Duchamp's painted chessmen in the early 1920s, the remarkable set seems to have become lost in the mists of time. We are left only with anecdotes and our own imaginations.
Today, specialty chess piece manufacturers offer a rainbow of colourful pieces for clients who wish to assemble custom sets. For example, Chaos creates pieces in purple, green, blue, red, white and black, while Giant Chess offers 16 hues including "Edelweis," "white milk," silver, vermillion, chestnut brown, Olympia gold, silver, and soft violet.
Here are some Chess-inspired palettes and colours from the COLOURlovers library:
Cover by GiantChess.com.
About the Guest Author, Craig Conley
Craig is an independent scholar and author of dozens of strange and unusual books, including a unicorn field guide and a dictionary of magic words. He also loves color: Prof. Oddfellow