What are muted colours?

Muted is just another word for greyed, or dulled. It refers to colours which have a low saturation. The opposite of a muted colour is a vivid colour, saturated colour.

How to create a colour “muted”?

Muted colours are mixed colours.

There are several ways to take a bright-saturated colour and make it into a more muted version:

  • Mix a colour with its complementary colour to create a more muted colour (for example, you can make a less saturated red by mixing it with green)
  • White (this will also lighten the colour)
  • Brown or any earth tone colour
  • Black or grey

Each method has different results and it is good too experiment when learning what muted colours are.

Vivid colours sure have their place. But it is usually far more effective to use vivid colours, in combination with muted colours. If you have bright colours everywhere in a painting, then nothing can really stand out or ‘pop’, as the entire painting will be one level – bright. Perhaps the element that is supposed to be the central point of the painting, is washed out by its surrounding colours that have the same brightness level. 

When there is a base of muted colours, you have much more control over where you direct people to look in the painting, as you can use relatively more colour and detail around the focal point.


Subtlety helps to give muted colours meaning. It is because of the subtlety in the painting, that we can see and feel all of the beautiful colour harmonies happen. 

 There may be times when it is perfectly suitable to let vivid colours dominate the painting. For example, the artist Vincent Van Gogh strongly believed of the relationship colours had on each other and wrote, “There is no blue without yellow and without orange.” Van Gogh's use of colour was extremely adventurous and unrealistic.


Fishing Boats On The Beach At Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888


Here are some of master paintings which effectively used muted colours:


Still Life, by Giorgio Morandi, 1946 

“Still Life” is an oil painting on canvas by the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. In this work, Morandi uses a muted colour palette that ranges from light and medium grey to cream white, beige, pale yellow and mauve. 


The Kiss, by Gustav Klimt, 1908

Klimt uses a muted colour palette and low contrast to build a soft, intimate feeling while still using a wide range of colours. Using two tones of muted yellow as the foundation makes the blues, purples, reds, and greens pop out from the background without being too vibrant or dark.


Interior from Strandgade with Sunlight on the Floor, by Vilhelm Hammershoi, 1900

In this painting, the muted monochromatic palette limited to tones of brown, with contrast of black and white contributes to the stillness and serenity of this domestic scene from 1900 by the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi.


Examples of muted colours paintings available at the gallery:

The Wanderer #4 by artist Neelum 


That was then... by artist Carmel Mccarney 



Bleeding Forest by artist Cornelius Martin


“Colour is my day long obsession, joy and torment.” Claude Monet

Do you like muted colours? 


Reference: artstudiolife and Tate 

Pictures: Canva

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Featured products

Mardi Cavana Aftershock
Sale price$450
Alaskan WatersAlaskan Waters
Helen Wiese Alaskan Waters
Sale price$1,100