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In memory of RCA alumnus Stuart Durant

We were saddened to learn of the death of RCA alumnus Stuart Durant (MA General Studies, 1973), who was instrumental in establishing the RCA’s internationally renowned Colour Reference Library.

Durant, a noted author and lecturer in design and architectural history, has died aged 88. The driving force behind bringing the Colour Reference Library to the RCA, Durant’s impact on how thousands of students and staff now understand colour cannot be overstated. Today the RCA’s Colour Reference Library is one of the largest collections of materials on colour in the world. It is made up of over 1,700 books that span six centuries and includes key works on colour theory, commercial paint charts, and obscure sets of colour standards ranging in subject from flower petals to skin tones.

Neil Parkinson, the RCA’s Archive & Collections Manager explained that ‘Today the Colour Reference Library is the most popular of the RCA’s special collections. It remains as a resource to inspire students: we want it to be a collection that is handled, used and alive.’

In the early 1970s Durant bought a core collection of around 60 key books on colour from Donald Pavey, a colleague at Kingston Polytechnic. Durant considered the collection to be highly significant and believed that, if it was added to, it would be possible to create a definitive collection of books on colour. As he was well connected to the antiquarian book trade, whenever a key work on colour came up at auction he would bid for it to grow the collection.

Colour Reference Library
Colour Reference Library
This enhanced collection was sold on to a collector but, when it looked like it was going to be sold again to a specialist in the USA, Durant and the RCA's then-librarian Hans Brill campaigned to keep it in the UK and bring the books to the RCA specifically. Their fund-raising was successful and in 1976 the collection arrived at the College, by which time it had grown to over 800 titles. Stuart continued to work with the resource, sitting on an advisory panel to help guide future acquisitions, development and research.

 ‘When I started my role, Stuart helped me bring the collection to life by pointing me in the direction of some of the lesser known figures in colour theory who haven’t been as well researched, but whose contributions have been quite remarkable. I still use these examples today when I introduce the resource to each new cohort of students,’ said Neil Parkinson.

In April 2017, Durant paid his last visit to the RCA to deliver a lecture on the little-known German colour theorist Carry van Biema to an audience of students, alumni and other guests. Following the session, he donated his personal copy of van Biema’s exceptionally rare work Farben und Formen als lebendige Kräfte (Colours and forms as living forces) (1930) to the Colour Reference Library. His final engagement with the Colour Reference Library was typical of his earliest involvement: encouraging its growth, shining a light on its neglected figures, and nurturing student enthusiasm for the mysterious and inspiring subject of colour.