The National Gallery- MAKING COLOUR


Ok, so it was a while back that I went to see this exhibtion, back in September 2014, but I didn’t add it here, so I thought it would be time. This is such a good place to help me remember all the exhibitions I have been to πŸ™‚ .

It was a super interesting exhibition, running through the importance and history of colour (for the artist). It is really incredible how rare and precious and even dangerous some colours/pigments were before synthetic ones came about in the 19th century. And how many poor insects were killed to get pigment before the synthetic ones came about.


Mixing some of my watercolours


My palette

A few of the many interesting facts;


ULTRAMARINE was more expensive than gold. It came in the shape of Lapis Lazuli natural mineral stones from Afghanistan that were ground into a fine powder and then mixed with wax, pine resin and gum arabic and kneaded in diluted alkaline bath— the process took days! In the 1300s the colour blue was a symbol of devotion and used for example in clothing on the Virgin Mary. There were a few other blue options (but not as precious as Lapis); Azurite, Prussian blue and smalt.


For a long time, it was hard to get a strong green pigment. One of the oldest is Verdigris, which is the green crust on the surface of copper and bronze. Interestingly green was used in Renaissance Italy as under paint for skin-tones, usually for faces.


Ochres are ancient. During the renaissance there came about a widely manufactured pigment of a bright yellow and orange tone. there was lead-tin yellow and Naples yellow which contains antimony.


Realgar is an orange mineral that has actual arsenic in it, which is extremely poisonous. So some paintings were painted with this, example by Titian and in some Dutch flower paintings.


For a very long time, the brightest red was vermilion, made from Cinnebar; a poisonous mineral. In the 19th century came an artifical version. Natural sources of red dyes are: Brazilwood, madder, stick lac -which are insects 😦 , kermes- also insects 😦 and cochineal- also insects 😦 .


Queen Victoria dressed her whole family in mauveine. Before it was synthetically made, it was the colour of the rich, because the it took 12,000 molluscs to get enough dye for a small garment. Those poor molluscs!


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