Scherker: The Forgotten Women Who Hand-Painted the First Color Films

Labor News, Industry News

Reprinted from Artsy by Amanda Scherker on April 10, 2019.

Early cinema is often remembered as an exclusively black-and-white affair, diametrically opposed to the vibrant menagerie of colors afforded by today’s 4K television sets. But in fact, an estimated 80 percent of early films were made in color—tinted, toned, and painted with bright dyes that produced an uncanny, surreal effect.

Frame scan from nitrate film print of Voyage sur Jupiter, 1909, from Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema, 2015. Published by Eye / Amsterdam University Press. Courtesy of publishers and the Eye Collection.

The bold and often fantastical colors that flickered across the earliest film reels are frequently left out of our greater cinematic history. More neglected still are the women responsible for those dazzling hues.

Indeed, the meticulous, exhausting work of hand-coloring film was one of the first careers in film production available to artistic women, and they came to dominate the field at the turn of the 20th century. Unfortunately, only sparse written records remain of their experiences, though their efforts can be seen and appreciated due to the restoration and digitizing work done by archivists. …

Artsy 4/10/19

About Jeffrey Burman 861 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at