Emily Noyes Vanderpoel

The Forgotten Women Behind Colour Theory

Emily Noyes Vanderpoel Banner

When searching colour theory you likely have discovered groundbreaking works such as Homage To The Square (1901) by Joseph Albers or Johannes Itten's The Art of Color (1961). But have you ever wondered where they found their inspiration?


Emily Noyes Vanderpoel, an artist, author, and historian, emerged as a pivotal figure in artistry during the turn of the 20th century. She entered the field of colour theory, which was still predominantly dominated by men, with women's involvement in art often considered a mere pastime. Nevertheless, Noyes would shatter these established norms with her pioneering work in colour theory and visual artistry, creating fields that had yet to exist. Her influence forever transformed the artistic landscape, leaving an indelible mark that can be observed in her own and the aforementioned artists' works.


Born as Emily Caroline Noyes in New York City in 1842, Vanderpoel hailed from an upper-class family. Her lineage included a distinguished grandfather who served as a high-ranking officer in the American Revolutionary War and a politician. In a time when educational opportunities for girls were limited, Noyes attended private schools in New York, where she studied under the guidance of landscape painter Robert Swain Gifford (1840-1905) and portrait painter William Sartain (1843-1924).

In 1865, Noyes married John Aaron Vanderpoel, and a year later, they welcomed their first child. Sadly, her husband passed away before the birth of their child, and Vanderpoel remained unmarried for the rest of her life.

Advancing and Retiring Colors 1901 Purple Origional v2
box image

Throughout her artistic journey, Vanderpoel displayed a keen interest in exploring the principles of colour theory, visualising the harmonies and combinations of colours in her artworks. She painted the landscapes surrounding Litchfield, Connecticut, where she lived. In 1901 she published a book on colour theory, Color Problems: A practical manual for the lay student of color, which can still be accessed through the Internet Archive. This book comprised 400 pages and 116 unique colour illustrations, highlighting the intricate relationships between colours. Her illustrations usually consisted of a 10 x 10 grid of colours based upon 'nature's pallet' an idea from Francis Wollaston Moody (1824-1886).

Unfortunately, Banderpoel's work did not receive the recognition it deserved during her time. It wasn't until recent decades that her contributions gained mainstream acknowledgement, with "Color Problems" being republished in 2018. However, this is not to say Banderpoel was forgotten in the art world. In Colour Problems, Vanderpoel showcased the idea of presenting colour through overlaid squares of colour, an idea that caught the attention of and captivated notable colour theorist Josef Albers, whose Homage to the Square (1933) bares an uncanny resemblance. Similarly, Johannes Itten incorporated the same ideas into his influential work, The Art of Color (1961).

Advancing and Retiring Colors 1901 Blue Origional
box image

Outside of artistry, Vanderpoel was an accomplished author and historian in her local area of Lichfield, where she was avid within the community. She published a two-volume history of the Litchfield Female Academy, in addition to her books on colour theory. In addition, she was an Honorary President of the Needle and Bobbin Club, the Vice-Presidant and Curator of the Historical Society and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Noyes had a passion for collecting pottery and art, particularly from Asia throughout her life.


Vanderpoel passed away on 20th February 1939 and was laid to rest in Lichfield.


In honour of one the leading female artists of the 19th and 20th Century have recreated some of her illustrations from Colour Problems: A practical manual for the lay student of color (1901) that would go on to inspire notable colour theorists in the decades to follow. We used bespoke EcoBoard boxes wrapped in colourful eco-friendly paper.

Want colourful boxes to boost your brand?


Enquire Now