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Let's imagine that I want to say the following, replacing the word drab:

This painting is beautifully drab.

I'm particularly thinking of when you describe a piece of art. Usually something lacking in color is drab, but occasionally the lack of strong colors is appropriate and positive, if that makes sense.

I have searched through the thesaurus for synonyms of "drab" and antonyms to synonyms of "colorful". As far as I can tell all of the results are generally negative in meaning.

Is there a word or am I searching for something that does not exist?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

You could perhaps call it understated:-

restrained in design, presentation, etc.; low-key: the understated elegance of the house.

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understated! That is the word I was looking for! I could almost feel a physical fizzle of connection in my brain when I read it. Cheers! – David John Welsh May 15 '13 at 7:31
That's the best, but muted isn't too negative. – Edwin Ashworth May 15 '13 at 10:30
Oh, that's good, too! Thanks, @Edwin – David John Welsh May 15 '13 at 13:47

Alternatively, you might consider austere, for which one meaning is

  1. Having no adornment or ornamentation; bare: an austere style.


Usually austere is more extreme or severe than drab, but it has an elegance to it. When you want something more militant than understated it can work well.

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protected by Mari-Lou A Nov 6 '14 at 6:57

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