Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research

Mary Gartside (1755-1819)

Mary Gartside was probably the first woman in the Western world to publish a book on colour and discuss colour theory in it. Her style of illustrating it, in the form of abstract blots, was highly inventive.

Mary Gartside was a British flower painter, art teacher and colour theorist, active in London between 1781 and 1809. 

Gartside's first book on colour was published in 1805 in the guise of a traditional watercolouring manual. It was preceded by a short pamphlet, and two more books followed in 1808. Until well into the twentieth century, she remained the only woman known to have published a complete theory of colour. In chronological and intellectual terms Gartside can cautiously be regarded an exemplary link between Moses Harris and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Links have also been made between James Sowerby's work on colour and Gartside's theory.

Her books are now extremely rare, having been published in small print runs only. 

Hardly anything is known about her life, but a few dates, places and occupations can be identified. She was probably born in the wider Manchester area in 1755 and died near Ludlow in December 1819.

Blue blot Mary Gartside 1805A copy of Mary Gartside's first book, openend on the page illustrating 'Blue'.