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I'm very curious regarding this topic. I would like to know what were the types of paint schemes usually used in waships by different nations from the 17th and 18th century. Does anyone know the paint scheme victory had before adopting the yellow and black bumble bee paint scheme. If you have some knowledge regarding this topic or found some interesting articles please leave a reply.

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A great book on the subject is Old Ship Figureheads and Sterns. It has a large section devoted to the evolution of paint-schemes from the Medieval era thru post-Napoleonic, as well as devoting the majority of the book to in detail description of ship's carvings and decoration from the era.

A preview can be found here: https://books.google.ca/books?id=4tmS5RbvcXsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=old+ship+figureheads+and+stearns&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dcWEVeD3LpCKyATWzoH4BA&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=old%20ship%20figureheads%20and%20stearns&f=false

I recommend searching 'paint scheme' to get to the right chapter.

Good luck :)

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Colors applicable to the French naval and merchant Marine to 1650-1850 :

Azur blue

Prussian blue

Smokey black

Red ochre



Sea green

Olive green

Yellow ochre

Naple yellow

White Belting


T'arrête hemp ropes

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You see this a lot with 17th century dutch paint sceme's: Just the wood colour with a top layer of blue or sometimes something else.


Edited by Ryga
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I think we may have to look to contemporary age of sail paintings to work out the mystery of ships colours. There must be a few.


This is the most complete I have found to date: However I have no idea what the sources would have been:






It seems to be very hard to track down any kind of paint scheme for warships apart from the battle of the nile and trafalgar... when paint schemes were almost uniform.... 

What I do know is that before Trafalgar captains were allowed to paint ships in whatever colours they saw fit. But that I cannot find out what those colours were !!!

It is also apparent that the colour schemes seem to be the most interesting in the early napoleonic era and the 50-100 years before that.  That is of course when their were still very ornate ships with I assume very ornate colour schemes.


It is also very apparent that not much is known about colour schemes of navies other than the British! But that may just be the reading material I can get my hands on that is in English.












"Chadwick references The British Fleet by Charles N. Robinson ("pp. 248, 249, for fuller details of painting")

I located a copy (interlibrary loan) of Robinson's book and here is the complete section: 

From 1700 to about 1801, blue upper works and canary yellow sides, with wide black strakes at the water-line were usual for the exterior of ships, and blood-red for inboard surfaces. Lord Nelson, for reasons of his own, introduced in his fleet the chequered side, black and yellow -- the exterior of the hull black all over, with a yellow strake along each tier of ports, the exterior of the port lids also being black; and after Trafalgar the "Nelson mode," as it was called, was adopted throughout the service, white being later substituted for yellow. At the same time green (occasionally in a few ships, buff or a pale brown colour was preferred) to be adopted for the inboard colour, as a substitute for red."


"The best info. on the painting of British Warships can be found in Frank Howard's "Sailing Ships of War" (Conway 1979) and Robert Gardener's "Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars" (Chatham 2000) backed up of course by the innumerable paintings of ships and actions during the period. 

As far as I can deduce, the story went like this - 

2. Admiralty Orders on Decoration. 
2.1 An AO of 1715 said that the sides of ships were "painted of the usual colour yellow, and the ground black, and that both inside and out to be of a plain colour....except such parts of the head, stern and galleries as are usually friezed." 

Models and paintings show that this order was not obeyed. It became the fashion for the interior to be painted red, and for the bulk of the woodwork on the sides to be either varnished or painted with turpentine so as to give a rich 'shiny-natural wood' appearance resembling light mahogany. The whales - the thicker strengthening timbers which stretched from stem to stern - were painted black; while the upper works (under the gilded decoration) were blue. There is strong evidence that the hold and orlop were whitewashed. 

2.2 An AO of 1780, attempted to introduce a more uniform yellow and black arrangement on the external hull. The different availability of paint in the various dockyards plus the fact that captains exercised considerable choice (and could pay for extra embellishments and paint themselves) meant that there was still a wide variety of styles. A Colonel Fawkes, for example, who was present at the Battle of the Nile described in detail the appearance of the various ships in the engagement. Thus Alexander, Audacious, Bellerophon, Defence, Orion and Mutine had "plain yellow sides." Goliath, Leander, Majestic, Theseus, Swiftsure and Vanguard had "yellow sides with wide black strake between the gunports". Culloden had "yellow sides with two narrow stakes." Zealous was "red with a small yellow stripe." Minotaur had "red sides with a black strake between the gunports." 

Painting the bulk of the hull black, with yellow ochre stripes following the lines of the gundecks but with black gunports to give a chequered effect was, of couse, the style favoured by Nelson. Many of his captains copied this colour scheme after 1800 in order to emulate their commander. I have seen orders for paint actually saying this. 

2.3 In 1813, to impose uniformity and cut the cost, an Admiralty Committee under Sir Thomas Byam Martin laid down (amongst other things) that the exterior of ships should in future be painted in a more austere style that also reflected regency taste. The scheme then established was for ships to be painted black with broad white stripes following the lines and width of the gundecks, the gunports themselves being in black to give a chequered effect. They also laid own that the interiors should be painted in yellow (though in fact it was nearer to buff) instead of red, thus accepting a change which had steadily be introduced informally since 1807."




"In the Age of Saildeception was often used by ships, and paint was applied ad hoc by ships' captains for temporary tactical advantage. A ship might be painted to look like another, it might have its cannon ports hidden by painted canvas to look harmless, or it might have additional cannon ports painted on to appear more powerful. For example, in one of his battles during 1778–1782, American privateer Jonathan Haraden hid the guns of his ship the General Pickering, to appear as if it were a slow merchant ship. Haraden allowed his ship to be approached at close range by a much faster British privateer, then he quickly pulled the painted canvas away and delivered a full broadside, capturing the enemy.[6]"

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Joseph Marshall a painter from the 1700s seems to have been commissioned by King George III to paint the lines of a lot of ships.

He also seems to have captured some of the colour schemes which I remember from way back was a major problem for the devs to research.


arshallJoseph active 1770-1780, artist, painter, British;




Check out the amount of red. I wonder whether it is indeed accurate.


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