The most famous of all, with its origins in Afghanistan, the most precious and beautiful pigment. But it has caught out some of the best forgers too.
For once the name is accurate: it originated in the Prussian Empire around 1704, and by 1730 had established itself as a standard if not entirely reliable pigment. Watteau, Canaletto, Hogarth, Blake, Monet, and van Gogh all used it.
It’s not Chinese, and for centuries was ignored, as lead white was preferred. It came into use during the 19th century, and is seen in paintings by Friedrich, Cézanne, van Gogh, Klimt, and Hodler.
Lead-tin yellow features in many paintings of the Old Masters, until about 1750. It was then replaced and forgotten until 1940. Examples in major masterpieces from Rembrandt, da Vinci, Vermeer, and others.
It’s not a colour at all, say some, while the Impressionists wanted to banish it from the palette. But throughout the history of painting, the blackest black has remained vital.
When it was first used as a pigment, this vegetable dye proved reliable and lightfast. Later technique, though, resulting in it fading. Why?
In their original form as madder, derived from plants and poorly resistant to light. Refined to Alizarin Crimson, still fugitive, and a standard for fading. Finally fully ‘permanent’.
Take some blue glass, grind it, and turn it into paint: Smalt is one of the strangest of pigments. It extensively used until replaced by Prussian Blue in the early 1700s, and is making a comeback.
Arsenic sulphides, they were both used in alchemy, and used commonly in paintings from Ancient Egypt through to the late 29th century. Tintoretto loved them.
What turns statues and copper roofs blue-green? ‘Copper rust’, the basis of the intense green pigment Verdigris, used by all the Masters.