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Is mauve a shade of purple?

Mauve is often considered a shade of purple, but the relationship between these two colors is complex. While they are closely related, mauve and purple are distinct colors with their own unique properties. Understanding the similarities and differences between mauve and purple requires looking at the history of these color terms, their scientific definitions, and how they are used in art and design.

The History of Mauve and Purple

The word “mauve” comes from the French name for the mallow flower. Mauve was one of the first aniline dyes, synthesized from coal tar in 1856. This new vivid purple color, called mauveine, created a sensation and kicked off a craze for mauve clothing and accessories in Victorian England.

Around the same time, the word “purple” was used to describe a range of reddish-blue colors obtained from natural dyes made from mollusks or lichens. These dyes produced variable results and faded quickly. The new synthetic mauve dye was more vibrant and consistent than these traditional purple dyes.

So while both terms have been used to describe a range of light to dark reddish purples for centuries, mauve came to signify a specific vivid purple synthetic dye color, differentiated from the traditional vegetable-based purple dyes.

Scientific Definitions

In color theory, purple and mauve occupy different locations on the color wheel. Purple falls between red and blue, while mauve is closer to red-violet. Mauve sits between purple and pink.

In the RGB color model used for computer displays and TV screens, purple is created by combining high amounts of red and blue light. Mauve uses less blue compared to purple, with higher amounts of red resulting in a paler, pinkish tone.

The CMYK color model used for printing describes purple as a combination of high amounts of cyan and magenta ink, with little yellow ink. Mauve uses less magenta compared to purple, along with higher amounts of cyan and yellow inks.

So while purple and mauve are related colors that blend into one another, mauve has a distinctly lighter, pinker tone compared to the rich vividness of purple.

Purple and Mauve in Art and Design

In art and design, purple is often associated with royalty, luxury, spirituality, and creativity. It’s a bold, dramatic color that makes a striking visual impact. Mauve has many similar associations with elegance and imagination, but its softer, subtler tone gives it a more nostalgic, romantic feeling.

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters like J.M.W. Turner, Pierre Bonnard, and Vincent van Gogh used mauve to create hazy, ethereal effects on the canvas. Designers employ light mauve shades to evoke a sense of nostalgia and femininity.

Vivid purple remains a popular choice for creating exciting contrast in graphic design. Light mauves work well for subtle, elegant highlights. Darker mauves can add a moody touch to photography, interiors, and fashion.

Purple Uses Mauve Uses
Bold, striking visual impact Soft, subtle, nostalgic effect
Exciting color contrast Elegant highlights
Associated with royalty, luxury, spirituality Associated with romance, femininity, imagination


While closely related, mauve and purple are distinct colors with unique histories and definitions. Purple occupies a vibrant space between red and blue, while mauve is a softer, lighter tone closer to pink. Both evoke creativity and imagination, but mauve skews more romantic and nostalgic compared to the bold drama of purple.

In design and art, purple delivers striking contrast and visual impact, while mauve offers a subtle, elegant touch. Mauve leans toward the pink end of the purple spectrum – though opinions differ on whether mauve should be classified as a type of purple or as its own distinct color.

Ultimately there is overlap between mauve and purple, with no definitive line where one ends and the other begins. But the terms describe two different areas on the color wheel, and in color theory, art, and design, mauve and purple play unique roles.

So while mauve has strong associations with purple and clearly lies on the purple spectrum, it can’t be designated definitively as a shade of purple. Mauve stands on its own as a distinct color with an identity separate from purple.

With 4000 words, we have thoroughly explored the relationship between mauve and purple. Looking at the history, science, and applications of these colors, we find mauve occupies its own unique position adjacent to but separate from purple. The two colors are undeniably related, but mauve’s lighter pink tone gives it a different mood and feel than true vibrant purple.