Black, the achromatic colour, plays a surprisingly crucial role in the history of painting. Black is a metaphor, a compositional device, and, from a technical standpoint, poses a particular challenge to the painter. In some of the earliest surviving paintings, black was used to add depth to dark areas; it came to be suggestive of the shadowy side of life and the dark recesses of the mind. In the 17th century, in Spanish and Netherlandish portraiture, the noble colour of black defined the fabrics worn by royalty and wealthy patrons. And with the emancipation of the colour in the 19th century, black gained in importance further still, and, applied in thick impasto, took on a material value of its own, in a process that culminated in the early 20th century with artists such as Max Beckmann and Kazimir Malevich abandoning its use in naturalistic representation altogether.

Featuring some 15 paintings from the Pinakotheken’s own collections, Three Colours Black focuses on painting from the second half of the 19th century – a time when black was just starting to lead a life of its own through new painterly approaches, while still being attached to older traditions. Paintings by 19th century artists such as Johann Heinrich Füssli, Édouard Manet, Franz Xaver Winterhalter and others, are presented alongside earlier masterpieces by Simon Vouet, Diego Velázquez, and Bartolomé Estéban Murillo, taken from galleries currently closed to the public at the Alte Pinakothek.