HISTORY OF COLOUR
For details of pigments, dyes and
colours associated with different
eras in the history of art, see:
Prehistoric Colour Palette
Hues used by Stone Age painters.
Egyptian Colour Palette
Hues used in Ancient Egypt.
Classical Colour Palette
Pigments used by painters in
Ancient Greece and Rome.
Renaissance Colour Palette
Colourts used by oil-painters and
fresco artists in Florence, Rome
Nineteenth Century Colour
Pigments used by Romantics,
Impressionist painters and
other 19th century artists.
Purple Colour Pigments
These included the plant colourants Indigo and Madder.
Green Colour Pigments
These included the blue-green Verdigris, the variable Green Earth (Terre
Verte, Verona Green or Celadonite) and the bright-green Malachite, also
known as Verdeazzuro.
Yellow Colour Pigments
These included the bright and transparent yellow colourant Gamboge, Massicot
(a lead oxide), Naples Yellow (Giallorino), the rich lemon hue Orpiment,
and Lead-Tin Yellow.
Brown Colour Pigments
These were mostly clay pigments like raw Sienna, burnt Sienna, raw Umber
and burnt umber, to which was added, during the Baroque era, the rather
unreliable Van Dyck Brown.
White Colour Pigments
These included Lead White, Gypsum, and Chalk.
Black Colour Pigments
These included Ivory Black (from burnt ivory/bones), Lamp Black (from
soot collected from oil lamps), and Vine Black (from charred grape vines).
In addition, like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and other great Renaissance
draughtsmen, 18th century Rococo artists used natural chalks made from
mineral pigments, for drawing, as exemplified in works by Jean-Antoine
New Pigments Developed in the Eighteenth
Several advances in colour chemistry had
a major impact on the 18th century colour palette, as follows:
Known also by a variety of names like Berlin Blue, Bronze Blue, Chinese
Blue, Milori Blue, Parisian Blue, and Steel Blue, this dark-blue (developed
accidentally by the Berlin chemist Diesbach) was the first modern, synthetic
pigment. It became available to artists' palettes from about 1724. Although
it possessed excellent tinting strength, it was only fairly permanent
to light and air. Nevertheless it became a popular alternative to Indigo
dye, Smalt, and Tyrian purple, all of which were prone to fading, and
an alternative to the costly ultramarine. Prussian Blue was taken up by
such masters as Pieter van der Werff and Antoine Watteau. Prussian Blue
endured into the 20th century before being replaced by Pthalo Blue.
Named after the chemist who invented it, rather than the English watercolourist
artist, JMW Turner (1775-1851),
this lead-based pigment was a fashionable addition to the 18th century
colour palette for a period because of its low cost, although it was vulnerable
to both impermanence and blackening. Hues varied from bright yellow to
orange. Eventually supplanted by Cadmium Yellow in the 19th century.
During the latter part of the 18th century, colour technicians developed
a beautiful synthetic copper blue, known as Bremen Blue. However, by the
early 1800s it was superceded by Cobalt Blue, although it survived until
the 1910s because of its range of attractive hues.
A semi-transparent but extremely permanent bright green pigment discovered
in 1780 by the Swedish chemist Rinmann, it was employed in all painting
mediums. However, its unsatisfactory tinting strength and high cost has
restricted its use.
Late Developments in the Eighteenth
Century Colour Palette
Spurred on by an increasing demand for
dyes to accomodate the growing industrial-scale production of textiles,
the process of scientific research into colourants gathered momentum towards
the close of the 18th century. As a result, the turn of the century saw
the introduction of several new paint-pigments.
By the turn of the century, synthetic red iron oxide pigments were being
produced in a range of hues. Marketed as Mars Reds, these artificially-made
"natural earth" pigments had all the attributes, including durability
and permanence, of their natural versions. This process has continued
throughout the 19th and 20th century.
Chrome Orange, Chrome Yellow, Chrome
By the end of the 18th century a class of natural pigments made from lead
chromate, first developed in the late 1790s by the French chemist Louis
Vauquelin, superceded both Turner's Patent yellow and Orpiment, due to
their improved opacity, their bright hues and low price. However, they
in turn were replaced during the 19th century by the Cadmium family of
Prelude to the 19th Century Revolution
In terms of artist colours, the 18th century
was the watershed between the traditional colour palette of the Renaissance
and the new palette of the modern-era. That said, many of the advances
in colour chemistry which took place in the 19th century (eg. the discovery
of Zinc White, among other pigments) were based on research conducted
in previous years.