Pigment History page 5

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, sepia drawings became very popular. Sepia virtually replaced bistre and Indian ink because of its richer tone. Sepia drawing was included in art schools and during Goethe’s time was used to record travel scenes, as snapshots are used today. The Romantics of the nineteenth century used sepia in sketches for paintings.Sepia is fairly permanent to light but in thin washes it will fade upon exposure to sunlight. It appears microscopically as irregular, fairly coarse particles most of which are opaque, with some being a semi-transparent yellow mauve (Gettens and Stout 1966, 155).Many varieties of blacks have also been known since antiquity such as charcoal, ivory and lamp blacks. The name carbon black is generally used as a generic name for those blacks that are made from the partial burning or carbonizing of natural gas, oil, wood, vegetables and other organic matter. In 1864, a process was developed in America for a black more suitable for watercolor. It was widely employed in 1884 (Mayer 1970, 46). The American process used natural gas as the raw material. The smoky flame resulting from the burning of natural gas was first directed to cool revolving metal drums. The black deposits were automatically removed from the sides of the drums with scrapers. The resultant powder was of a finer grain than other blacks allowing it to spread better in watercolor. It was a stable pigment, unaffected by light and air (Gettens and Stout 1966, 103).Two of the later known manganese pigments were manganese black and brown. Field listed them as black oxide of manganese. Ralph Mayer mentioned that they were patented in England by Rowan in 1871 but not widely used (Mayer 1970, 58). Both he and Field indicate that they were extremely permanent and fast driers in oil (Field 1885, 88).The last noteworthy pigment to be developed in the period 1780 to 1880 was synthetic Indigo. Indigo is a natural vegetable; whose coloring matter is indigotin (C16H10N202) from the plant indigofera tinctoria. The natural dyestuff was used in the Far East for coloring cloth and has been known since the fifteenth century in painting (Wehlte 1982, 153).To prepare the dye, freshly cut plants were soaked until soft, packed into vats and left to ferment. It was then pressed into cakes for use as a watercolor or dried and ground into a fine powder for use as an oil paint.In 1880, A. Baeyer synthesized indigotin and by 1900 the synthetic all but replaced the natural variety. Indigo was known to fade in thin washes upon exposure to sunlight; with the synthetic version more resistant. Wehlte (1982, 153) and Laurie (1926, 96) do not support its use in the artists’ palette.In addition to zinc white, two other whites were developed in the nineteenth century. Barium sulfate (BaSO4), also known as Barium white, Blanc Fixe, Permanent white and Constant white were made from the natural mineral and also artificially prepared. The natural mineral was known from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries as ceruse, an extender for white lead.The artificial variety of barium sulfate was developed in the early nineteenth century and sold as Blanc Fixe. Both Blanc Fixe and natural barium sulphate were too transparent to be accepted as an oil white. Their transparency, however, made them good extenders for oil colors and as inert substrates for lake pigments (Harley 1970, 164). They were more widely accepted in watercolor for their transparency but had the defect of being lower in tone when wet than when dry (Field 1885, 103).Lithopone was the last white developed in the nineteenth century. It was a combination of zinc sulfide and artificial barium sulphate (ZnS and BaSO4). In this case, artificial barium sulphate was not a filler but a necessary component in the manufacture of lithopone. In the early years of its manufacture (the mid-nineteenth century), lithopone was used as a ground for oil painting but was prone to darkening and cracking (Laurie 1926, 58). Although its defect was corrected by the end of the century, its early reputation kept artists from using it until about 1930 (Wehlte 1982, 75).The artists’ colorman’s trade had much to do with the rapid introduction of new pigments into the artists’ palette. Before the mid-eighteenth century, virtually all artists’ materials were prepared in the studio, especially pigments, which were purchased in the form of a powder and ground into oil or gum by the artist or his/ her assistants. Colormen saw the increasing interest of amateurs in painting and set up production on a large scale. They were also supplying house painters with inexpensive color ground with a horse-drawn mill. Many artists, though, were justifiably suspicious that their pigments were being adulterated with filler and were reluctant to purchase ready-to-use colors.Technological advances, however, continued unabated. In 1976 a mill was developed in France which was specifically designed to reduce the risk to colormen of the inhalation of toxic pigments, especially lead white. Above the grinding slab, an umbrella-shaped opening was connected to a long pipe that was attached to a furnace. The heat from the furnace drew loose particles and fumes up and away from the colorman. Although this process was effective in terms of safety, it was used strictly for hand grinding (Harley 1970, 58). A different mill was developed in 1804 for large-scale grinding. The Rawlinson’s hand-operated single-roll grinding mill was designed especially for the colormen and recommended by the Royal Society of Arts, London. It had no apparatus for drawing away dangerous substances but it was a fast, economical way to prepare pigments (Paint and Painting [1982], 39).By the end of the nineteenth century, technology had greatly improved the materials of painters. The color range was substantially increased and the need for costly, impermanent pigments was largely eliminated. Painters varied considerably, however, in their use and exploitation of the new pigments.Francisco Goya’s (1746-1828) bold moody paintings and dark palette were not created from the new pigments that were available in his lifetime. He did not avail himself of Scheele’s or Schweinfurt green, or cobalt green. He was, however, using cobalt blue that he could mix with Naples yellow or yellow ochre to make a rather dull green (Lane and Steinitz 1942, 23)The neoclassicist Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) subordinated color to line and preferred a palette of primary colors. His strict academic methodology precluded the need for any pigments that the Old Masters did not have. With the exception of Prussian blue and Cassel earth, available since the early eighteenth century, David’s palette was composed primarily of red and yellow earths, blacks and greys. He was using vermilion and ultramarine blue, presumably the genuine variety. The Old Masters had used those pigments. At the end of David’s life, he added chrome yellow that would have balanced a primary range of hues (Birren 1965), 55).Although the Romantic painter Theodore Géricault (1791-1824) was one of the first artists of the nineteenth century to revolt against the neoclassicism of David and the French Academy, his palette remained virtually the same as theirs (Birren 1965, 57). One can only speculate as to the potential he would have had with the new, brilliant pigments that were introduced shortly after his death in 1824.During the 1830s and 1840s numerous advances occurred in painting technology and theory. Of the many books on color theory published in the first half of the nineteenth century, the most notable was Michel Eugene Chevreul’s work of 1839. George Field published his most complete book on colors for the artist in 1835. The invention of the collapsible metal tube in 1841 made this decade one that would change painting, forever.George Field (1777? -1854) was both an author and color manufacturer in England. He had been testing pigments for lightfastness and durability for at least thirty years when his book Chromatography: A Treatise on Colours and Pigments for the use of Artists was published for the first time in 1835 (Taylor 1885).Field was awarded a gold medal from the Royal Society of Arts in 1815 for his improvements in the method of filtering lake pigments. In 1818, he published Chromatics: An Essay on the Analoqy and Harmony of Colours that was a short book on ideas about primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Chromatography outlined the properties of pigments. It was written especially for artists and gave practical advice on the advantages and disadvantages of pigments, both old and new (Harley 1979, 75-84).Michel Eugene Chevreul’s (1786-1889) book The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and their Application to the Arts, was well known to the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists. The background that Chevreul had for writing his book was ideal. He was the son of a physician and by age twenty was working in a laboratory and writing scientific papers. In 1816, he was appointed the Professor of Chemistry and the director of the dye houses at the famous Gobelin tapestry house. The experience he gained from working at Gobelin led to his theories on optical color mixing which was central to the methodology of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists.Before the early nineteenth century, paint that was not sold in powder form was sold packaged in a pig’s bladder. It was bound at the top with a cord to keep air out. This was particularly important for the marketing of lead colors as they were sold in the form of a partially ground paste, so as not to have inhalable dust in the air. The paint was released by puncturing the bladder with a tack and then closing the hole off with the tack. Their apparent convenience was overshadowed by the tendency of the bladders to leak. James Hams devised a metal syringe tube in 1822. A screw at one end was turned to force the paint out of a hole at the other end. A cap was put over the open end when not in use. They worked well but their high cost made them only usable by established professionals. Sir Thomas Lawrence used them and a set was given to Queen Victoria by her mother (Paint and Painting [1982, 57). When, in 1830 Mérimée wrote, “It is hardly probable that many English painters have adopted this expedient,” he must have been referring to such a metal syringe tube (Birren 1965, 61). Winsor and Newton developed a less costly glass syringe tube in 1840 but it was not until 1841 that the American portrait painter, John G. Rand, invented the collapsible metal tube. Flattening metal and cutting it into the desired shape made it. The earliest tubes had a metal stopper to close off the open end. The earliest tubes were produced in England because of especially large tin deposits there.The opposite styles of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and Ingres (1780-1867) were paralleled by very different uses of the new pigments. Turner experimented with many new pigments, including some of the most fugitive ones. Ingres´ palette, however, was very much the same as David’s with the addition of cobalt blue and the new artificial ultramarine, very soon after its introduction. Mérimée, upon reporting in 1828 about the success of Guimet’s artificial variety, added that Ingres´ had used it on the drapery of a principle figure in the Apotheosis of Homer (Musée Charles X, the Louvre) of 1827 (Plesters 1966, 77).A scientific examination of Turner’s paint box, preserved in the Tate Gallery Archives, was done in 1954. It revealed an eclectic variety of old and new, conventional and unconventional pigments (Hanson 1954, 162-173). Many historians have discussed Turner as an artist of great imagination and have also emphasized his total lack of concern for craftsmanship or the preservation of his finished works. Damage had occurred to his work in his own lifetime, particularly the problem of fading. Winsor and Newton recorded a conversation that Turner had with them. Winsor had noticed that Turner was frequently purchasing fugitive colors from him and one day he reproved Turner about this practice. Turner replied, “Your business is to make colours…mine is to use them” (Pavey 1984, 19). Turner’s palette included the new pigments chrome yellow and orange, cobalt blue, iodine scarlet, barium yellow, carbon black and Turner’s yellow. Many red lake colors were also found including one that was made in an unconventional way and was extremely fugitive (Hanson 1954, 162-173). Turner was apparently as unconcerned about the permanence of his palette as he was about the protection of his finished works.The palette of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) was more complex than those already described. His romantic style was exemplified by a preponderance of warm colors, both old and new, in his palette. Delacroix was generally influenced by the style of Baroque art. Birren indicated that Delacroix’s color range was derived from Van Dyke as suggested to Delacroix by the Baroness de Meyendorf in 1845. The palette appropriately included all pigments that were available in the seventeenth century, with the exception of emerald green that was first known in 1614. By at least 1861, however, Delacroix had considerably added to Van Dyke’s palette. It was at this time that Delacroix’s style had shifted towards the romantic. He stressed color over line and drawing and was becoming an important color theorist. The new pigments he added included cobalt (probably blue), Egyptian brown (also known as Egyptian Mummy), cadmium (yellow), Indian yellow, light chrome yellow and zinc yellow (Birren 1965, 58). Delacroix was also known to mix, on his palette, at least twenty-five other colors. These he used on murals. Since cobalt violet was not introduced until shortly before his death, all the violet colors were mixed on his palette by combining, for example, cobalt blue, red lake and vermilion. Baudelaire said, “I have never seen a palette so meticulously prepared as Delacroix’s…like a carefully chosen bunch of flowers” (Lane and Steinitz 1942, 23). Unlike Turner, his choices of new pigments were mainly reserved for those regarded as permanent in his lifetime.The revolutionary new style of Impressionism was disencumbered by nineteenth century developments in pigment technology. Bythe third quarter of the nineteenth century the break from the French Academy was complete, photography was changing the reasons for painting, the art of Japan provided new options and a whole new palette was now possible. The formulation of new theories about color could not have been fully explored without the kind of saturated hues that chemistry had provided. The alla prima method of painting would have had a palette of pastel shades. If the Impressionists had had to mix most of their colors with white to achieve hues with the body and opacity they needed, the movement would have been short lived. Without the development of tubes with which they could transport their palette into the landscape and make use of generously loaded brushstrokes, only the very most determined painter would have survived.One can realize the influence of the new pigment technology by looking at the palettes of such painters as Pissarro, Signac and Bonnard. They eliminated blacks and browns (including related reddish and yellowish earth browns) and their palettes were almost totally comprised of new pigments. Their color ranges were small in relation to earlier nineteenth century painters with Signac employing the widest range of eleven hues. These painters and their contemporaries were influenced by the color theories of Chevreul. They used small brushstrokes of unmixed color placed close together that were optically blended when viewed at a distance. This method created the brilliant, shimmering effect of light that characterizes late nineteenth century art.Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) once said to Cézanne, “Never paint except with the three primary colors and their derivatives.” Pissarro followed such a practice. His typical palette was: (1) white lead, (2) chrome yellow, (3) vermilion, (4) rose madder, (5) ultramarine, artificial, (6) cobalt blue, and (7) cobalt violet (Lane and Steinitz 1942, 24). As colorists know, a warm and coo1 version of each primary color is advisable for mixing pure secondary colors. Pissarro made such choices with the exceptions of yellow and violet.The Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac (1863-1935) had a palette that was more balanced because of the color theories that he followed. He and Seurat followed color theory strictly to build color relationships on their paintings. Signac chose cadmium yellow and cadmium yellow pale, the former being warmer than the latter. He did the same with reds choosing vermilion (warm) and rose madder (cool). His blues ranged from the very warm coeruleum to the relatively neutral cobalt blue to the cool ultramarine, artificial. He also added emerald green for a brilliant shade one would be unable to mix. He used both the new zinc white and the ancient white lead, each possessing advantages and disadvantages (Birren 1965, 66).Pierre Bonnard’s (1867-1947) palette was just as individualistic as his work was in relation to those already described. He chose two greens, cobalt green and emerald green. Like Pissarro, he used both cobalt blue and ultramarine, artificial. Bonnard selected strontian yellow and cadmium yellow, the former being cooler than the latter. He only opted for one red that was carmine lake. This left a curious gap in the cooler red end of the spectrum. Perhaps to balance this gap, cobalt violet served its purpose as a very cool color. The nature of his white is unknown (Birren 1965, 67).The palettes of these artists are serviceable to any painter working today, just as the palette of the Old Masters sufficed for the Neo-Classicist, The new brighter colors available to late nineteenth century artists aided in their break from classical art. Their palettes were in direct opposition to accepted styles of painting. The chiaroscuro that characterized classical art was replaced by the luminosity of bright sunlight. Thus is the importance of nineteenth century pigment technology as it helped the revolution of Impressionism and all that came after.

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