The Blue of a Robin’s Egg


Finding a paint color or fabric swatch that matches the blue of a robin’s egg ought to be a straightforward process because the model exists in nature. There will be some variation in shade from one nest of robins’ eggs to another, of course, but certainly not enough to justify the wide variation in commercial products and in the arts, which go from a green with a blush of blue to a pale turquoise, and all going by the name “Robin’s Egg Blue”. How can that be, when the eggs themselves exist in nature every spring for everyone to see?


The answer has to be that perceptions of color, like perceptions of everything else, differ from person to person. It’s all well and good to attach a number to a color, as the design company Pantone and as the federal government have done, or a combination of letters and numbers as computer programmers and as the makers of display monitors have done, but to then assign a descriptive name to that color and have everyone agree the name is apt gets into murky territory, particularly when the name is drawn from nature. Many people have seen a robin’s egg in nature, after all, but of those people not all of them will agree that display monitor color #00CCCC is the same shade of blue they have seen.

American Robin Eggs in Nest
American robin eggs in nest. Photo by Laslovarga.

That display monitor color hex code is not even a uniform descriptor for Robin’s Egg Blue from one manufacturer to another or from one computer program to another. Pick an industry that relies on descriptions of color in its products, and few of them can agree on which objective color code matches a subjective color descriptor. Go in the opposite direction, from subjective to objective, and the situation is equally muddled. The best people can do is to trust their own eyes and not be overly swayed by the names on cans of paint or on fabric swatches. The only true judge of the right shade of blue is the mother robin herself, who knows her own eggs and couldn’t care a whit about any fancy designer shades of blue claiming to be made for her babies.
— Vita

In the 1948 film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Myrna Loy as Muriel Blandings instructs one of her contractors, played by Emory Parnell, on the various paint colors she wants him to use in the different rooms of the house.