17th/18th Century Colour Palette
Artist Colours Used by Rococo, Neo-Classical Painters.

Pin it

Detail from, The Great Bacchanal
With Woman Playing A Lute (1628)
By Nicolas Poussin, who was
renowned for his blue pigments.

Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton:
"Pinkie" (1794) Huntington Institute,
San Marino, California.
By Thomas Lawrence.

17th/18th Century Colour Palette
Pigments Used by 17th/18th Century Painters

The Modernist Pigments

The era of modern art traditionally begins with Impressionism, but here we use the term more widely to describe the basic colour palette which developed as a result of advances in fine art colour-pigment technology from the 18th-century onwards. Although most of the advances in colour chemistry which affected the modern colour palette occurred during the 19th century, many were based in part on research conducted before 1800.

The Eighteenth Century Colour Palette (1700-1800)

Broadly speaking, early 18th-century oil painters - painting in the late Baroque, Rococo, or Neoclassical art styles - were still using the basic colour palette of the Renaissance era. In brief, this included colours derived from the following pigments:

Red Colour Pigments
These included the orange-red pigment Vermilion (China Red), Carmine, "Lac", the yellow red Realgar, and the bright red "Dragons Blood", and earthy hues like Venetian Red.

Blue Colour Pigments
These included the superlative pigment Ultramarine, as well as its leftovers known as Ultramarine Ashes, Azurite, and Egyptian Blue. During the Baroque period of the mid-17th century, colour-makers developed an improvement on Egyptian Blue called Smalt, in which they replaced copper with Cobalt.

For a guide to the use of pigment
by painters, the impact of chemistry
and paint manufacturing techniques,
famous colourists from Renaissance,
Baroque, Impressionist, Fauvist and
contemporary periods, see:
Colour in Painting.
For information about the concepts
and ideas involved in colour, see:
Colour Theory in Painting.

For advice about combining
hues, see: Colour Mixing Tips.
For an A-Z list of important artist
pigments, from Antiquity through
Medieval times, Renaissance, Baroque,
Impressionism and Modern Art, see:
Colour Pigments: Types, History.
For the definition and meaning of
colour terminology in painting, see:
Colour Glossary For Artists.

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
and Venice.
Nineteenth Century Colour Palette
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).

Red/Black Chalks
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 Watteau.

New Pigments Developed in the Eighteenth Century

Several advances in colour chemistry had a major impact on the 18th century colour palette, as follows:

Prussian Blue
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.

Turner's Yellow
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.

Bremen Blue
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.

Cobalt Green
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.

Mars Reds
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 Red
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 colours.

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.

• For information about oils, see: Oil Painting: History, Painters.
• For a guide to watercolours, see: Watercolour Painting.
• For information about acrylics, see: Acrylic Painting.
• For information about colour pigments and painting, see: Homepage.

Art Glossary
© visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.