Nineteenth Century Innovations in Artist-Paint
In addition, improving fine
art paint manufacturing technology produced several crucial innovations
- not least, the collapsible tin paint tube, invented in 1841 by American
painter John Rand, which revolutionized the colour palette and technique
of plein-air oil painting by offering
a range of pre-mixed colours in a convenient, portable medium. This was
a major factor in the emergence of Impressionism.
Later in the century, the Sherwin-Williams paint manufacturing
company perfected a formula to keep fine paint particles suspended in
Linseed oil. Since then, artist-paint manufacturers have produced an ever-growing
range of pre-mixed oil paints, completely eliminating the need for hand-ground
pigments, and revolutionizing the practice of oil painting in the process.
All this made the art of painting much more accessible to would-be artists,
and thus fuelled the fine arts education system as well as the artist-paint
market in general.
The main reason for the introduction of
new oil and watercolour paints had nothing to do with art: it came about
almost entirely as a result of the huge demand for textile dyes for clothing.
Thus when a new pigment was discovered, or an old one synthesized, the
first beneficiaries were usually textile manufacturers: artist-quality
versions of the pigments took longer to appear, as demand for such specialist
colour products was smaller.
New Artist-Pigments Developed in the
Here is a short list of the more important
developments in colour and pigment technology during the 19th century,
and their impact on the basic colour palette used by most painters.
At the turn of the century, synthetic versions of red iron oxide pigments
were being introduced in a variety of hues. These laboratory-made "natural
earth" pigments, marketed as "Mars Reds" possessed all
the qualities (eg. durability and permanence) of their natural counterparts
New Chrome Colours
Also at the turn of the century, a new family of Lead-Chromate pigments
was starting to appear, developed by the French colour-maker Louis Vauquelin.
These new paints - Chrome Red, Chrome Orange and Chrome Yellow - had bright
hues, better opacity and a low price, and quickly began to replace both
Turner's Patent yellow and Orpiment.
This costly but highly stable pure blue pigment was discovered by the
French scientist Louis Jaques Thénard in 1802, after conducting
a series of experiments at the Sevres porcelain factory. Cobalt Blue was
a significant improvement on smalt - itself an improved version of the
old Egyptian Blue pigment made from blue glass - and became the most important
of all the cobalt pigments. It is completely stable in watercolour and
fresco painting and an excellent
alternative to ultramarine blue when painting skies.
These were a new class of pigments, in hues of yellow, orange and red,
formulated from the metal cadmium. Cadmium yellow was cadmium sulfide,
to which increasing quantities of the mineral selenium were added to broaden
the colour-range. Adding Viridian to Cadmium yellow produces the bright,
pale green pigment cadmium green. Cadmium was discovered by Stromeyer
in 1817, but actual production of pigments did not begin in earnest until
1840 due to a shortage of the metal. All of the cadmium pigments had great
colour brilliance with the deeper tones having the greatest tinting strength.
They were used in both oil painting and watercolour, although the brightness
of their hues tended to fade in murals and fresco painting.
The beautiful but prohibitively expensive pigment Ultramarine, obtained
from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli and long regarded as one of
the finest natural artist-colours, was finally synthesized by both the
Frenchman Jean Baptiste Guimet and the German chemist Christian Gottlob
Gmelin in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Formulated from aluminium silicate
with sulfur impurities, the synthetic version of Ultramarine was non-toxic
and as permanent as the natural variety, but darker and less azure. It
was made for both oil and watercolour paints.
This is an umbrella term for three yellows introduced during the 1830s:
Strontium Yellow, Barium Yellow and Zinc Yellow. All three were semi-transparent
and employed in both oil and watercolour paints. Strontium Yellow was
a cool, light yellow, more permanent and richer in tone than Barium Yellow.
Although Zinc oxide was seen as a potential source of artist-white by
French colourmakers in the 1780s, it wan't until the later discovery of
zinc deposits in Europe that patents were granted for the production of
zinc oxide to the English colourmaker John Atkinson, and others. By the
early 1830s, Zinc White had appeared as a watercolour although it took
longer to formulate it for use in oil paints. In 1834, Winsor and Newton,
Limited, of London, presented a dense form of zinc oxide which was sold
as Chinese white. In 1844, an improved Zinc White for oils was formulated
by the French chemist LeClaire - it was slower to dry, less opaque, more
permanent and less vulnerable to blackening than the major alternative
Lead White. It was also non-toxic and cheaper. Also, LeClaire's Zinc White
had a colder, cleaner, and whiter masstone than the best types of lead
white (or even titanium white). Its only noticeable drawback was its brittleness
which caused unmixed dry paint to crack.
Discovered in 1797 by the French chemist Vauquelin, Viridian Green was
only developed into an artist-quality paint around 1840. A highly stable
and powerful cold green colour, it was non-toxic with excellent permanence.
It replaced the highly poisonous fugitive colour known as Emerald Green.
Also called Cobalt Yellow, this intense medium yellow pigment replaced
Gamboge, an earlier pigment made from an Asian gum. Aureolin was synthesized
in 1848 by the German chemist N.W. Fischer for both oil and watercolour
painting, being replaced later in the 19th century by the less expensive,
and more lightfast Cadmium pigments, and others.
In 1856, the Englishman William Henry Perkin discovered mauveine, the
first aniline dye. This was a technical breakthrough which led to the
discovery of dozens of other synthetic dyes and pigments.
The name of this 19th century greenish-blue pigment was based on the Latin
word "caeruleum" (sky or heavens) previously used in Classical
Antiquity to refer to numerous blue pigments. It was a highly stable,
lightfast colourant, first formulated in 1821 by Hopfner, but not available
generally until 1860 when it was reintroduced by George Rowney in England,
as a paint-hue for oils and aquarelle watercolour painting. It was based
on cobalt, but lacked the opacity and richness of cobalt blue. Nevertheless,
in oil paint, it preserved its colour better than any other blue and was
particularly popular with landscape artists when painting skies.
Cobalt Violet was introduced in the early 1860s. Not unlike its older
sister Cobalt Green, its drawbacks included high cost and weak colouring
power, both of which limited its use among painters. It was quickly replaced
by the cleaner, stronger pigment Manganese Violet.
This new pigment, synthesized in 1868 by the German chemists, Grabe and
Lieberman, was the synthetic version of the very old natural dye Rose
Madder, found in Madder plants.
Invented by the German chemist E. Leykauf in 1868, this purplish pigment
- also known as Permanent Violet and Nuremberg Violet - replaced Cobalt
Violet in 1890. It was a cleaner, less toxic pigment with improved opacity
and colouring power.
Although actually discovered as early as 1821, mass-production of this
superb artist-quality pigment only began in the early 1920s.
Important 19th Century Colourist Movements
The 19th century witnessed an upsurge in art movements and painting
styles that were based on certain colour theories. These movements included:
and Italian Divisionism
(Grubicy, Balla). All these were part of the general Post-Impressionist
painting movement (c.1880-1905).
Inferior Nineteenth Century Pigments
Although the 19th century artist colour
palette was considerably strengthened by these new paints, it still featured
a number of problem pigments, which persisted until the end of the period.
The survival of these weaker products was due to a combination of factors,
although ignorance was a major contributor. To begin with, ever since
the breakdown of the traditional artist studio system - with its emphasis
on hand-ground colourants and detailed knowledge of pigment performance
- artists' understanding of colour had gradually declined. Secondly, both
specialist and popular knowledge of the chemical attributes (notably toxicity)
of certain metals and metallic compounds was still relatively small. Finally,
it wasn't until the latter part of the century that paint-suppliers started
looking more closely at how certain pigments were produced and eliminating
unethically made products.
Among the problem pigments on the 19th
century colour palette, were the following:
Reportedly the favourite hue of both Paul
Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh,
this pigment had a brilliance unlike all other copper greens. Unfortunately
it was extremely poisonous, and may even have contributed to the health
of these two artists, among others.
Unbelievably, this pigment was made from ground up Egyptian mummies imported
into England - a process not terminated until the end of the century.
This pigment, a solution of asphalt in oil or turpentine, had been used
successfully by Old Masters (eg. Rembrandt) as a protective coating. In
the 18th century and 19th century it was revived by many artists in order
to give an "Old Master look" to their canvases. Whether or not
the painters concerned failed to treat the pigment with the requisite
care, it caused frequent darkening and cracking.
This deep, luminous yellow pigment was made from the urine of cattle fed
on mango leaves, a non-nutritious and cruel process which wasn't terminated
until it was banned in 1908.
The 19th Century Colour Palette
This list of paint colours itemizes only
the major additions. Many of the colours available during the 18th century
were still available during the 19th century, as well as a wide variety
of non-permanent plant colourants.
Prussian Blue, Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine (synthetic), Cerulean Blue,
Mauve, Manganese Violet.
Emerald Green, Viridian, Chromium Green Oxide, Cobalt Green.
Zinc White (Chinese White)
Rose Madder, Alizarin Crimson, Mars Reds.
Cadmium Yellow, Chrome Yellow, Aureolin, Zinc Yellow, Strontium Yellow,
Lemon Yellow (Barium Chromate), Indian Yellow.
Egyptian Brown (Mummy), Ashphaltum.