What happens when an eccentric architect has the soul of a painter? He drafts a technicolour blueprint and creates elaborate canvasses out of brick and mortar. Portmeirion, the celebrated Italianate village on the west coast of Wales, and famous location of the 60’s cult television series “The Prisoner,” was built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis as a retirement project.
The fairy-tale hamlet he created (30 years before Disneyland) is like a three-dimensional picture postcard exhibiting an unparalleled array of colours. Portmeirion is often cited as an example of “picturesque architecture.” Picturesque simply means that something is proper to be pictured. In the picture that is Portmeirion, foreground and background are the real ground of a rainbow we can walk through.
“Clough, one knows from Portmeirion, was never afraid of colour. The buildings are colour-washed ochre, terracotta, primrose, a dusky blue.” The greeny-turquoise of his ironwork in the garden recurs on houses. “How many people ever think of linking house and garden colour-wise? He reminds any gardener that colour is not only flowers. It is what comes out of the paint pot, and the possibilities for the imaginative are limitless” (Roy Strong, Garden Party, 2000).
Steps to Battery Square. by inventedeye
A casual tour of Portmeirion reveals an intriguing colour palette around every corner and in every nook and cranny. Many of the colours are washed out by design to emulate a sun-bleached, sea-sprayed Mediterranean feel. However, bold splashes of rich colour abound. Often colours are deliberately gradiented (lighter toward the top) as a forced-perspective trick. Single buildings showcase multiple colours. For example, Government House (see title image above, to the left of the bell tower) has a buff yellow wall adjacent to a dark coral wall.
Sometimes multiple colours are painted on the same wall to create the illusion of grandeur. For example, Chantry Row (below) appears to be four separate cottages, each a different sun-bleached colour (apricot, pale pink, light blue, and swamp green), but is actually two cottages.
Chantry Row at top right above the Bristol Colonnade. by markhsal
Shadier areas throughout the village feature stronger palettes. At Angel cottage we find three coastal blues, light orange, and terracotta.
Angel Cottage. by ziedu mate
The shadiest spots throughout the village feature richer colours. Consider the base of the bell tower, with four vivid blues and goldenrod.
The Campanile. by indigo goat
Bold accent colours lend a sense of cohesion. For example, water features, park benches, statue canopies, sconces, and waste bins are painted a vibrant aqua/electric blue.
The Piazza. by wumpus
Gold is another common accent colour. The Balinese Dancers in the Piazza, the Pantheon's finial sphere, and the eagle adornments all gleam in the sun.
The Pantheon and Balinese Dancer. by wumpus
Statue alcoves are frequently painted cobalt and cerulean blues to offset the statues they shelter.
Alcove at Round House. by ziedu mate
Solid colour walls are often broken up with embellishments. For example, the pumpkin orange wall below features a relief whose background has been painted azure, as well as a black iron hook.
Side wall of Angel Cottage. by inventedeye
According to Sir Clough’s philosophy, “design and colour really do matter profoundly to all of us as a powerful source of pleasure, if we will but use our eyes as we ought.” Sir Clough ironically noted that few painters ever visit Portmeirion, perhaps because “they feel that I have so manipulated the whole scene already that it leaves them too little scope for personal expression” (Portmeirion: The Place and Its Meaning, 1963).
A Hans Freiburg mural graces Anchor Cottage. by indigo goat
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
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