MORE ON THE COLOUR YELLOW
All extracted from The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair which is well worth reading.
- CHROME YELLOW
Used by Van Gogh in the Sunflowers. Discovered in 1762, when a scarlet-orange crystal was excavated from the Beresof gold mine, in deepest Siberia. It was called crocoite (Greek word for saffron – krokos) and the French chemist, Nicolas Louis Vauquelin, discovered it contained a new element, a metal, he named Chrome (after another Greek word meaning colour). ‘The problem later discovered by artists and art lovers was that it has a nasty habit of browning with age’, case in point, Van Gogh’s sunflowers, are browning with age ‘due to the paints reaction with other pigments in sunlight’. (St. Clair, Kassia, The Secret Lives of Colour, 2016)
‘When William Winsor and Henry C Newton first started selling artists’ pigments from a small shop at 38 Rathbone Place in London in 1892, gamboge, one of their principal pigments, would arrive in regular packages from the offices of the East India Company. Each package contained a few thin cylinders, about the circumference of a ten pence coin and the colour of old earwax, wrapped in leaves.’ (St. Clair, Kassia, The Secret Lives of Colour, 2016)
These were then broken down with a metal anvil and a hammer and fixed into little brown cakes, once water was added, it, ‘yielded a yellow paint so bright and luminous it almost seemed fluorescent’. The paint was ‘solidified sap of Garcinia trees,’ from Cambodia – so you had to typically milk the tree (which was a ‘least a decade old, deep gouges can be cut into their trunks’ and ‘[h]ollow lengths of bamboo are used to catch the sap as it trickles out. It takes over a year for the bamboo to fill up and the sap to harden’. ‘Workers who crushed gamboge at Winsor & Newton would have to rush to the toilet once an hour while working with it’. (St. Clair, Kassia, The Secret Lives of Colour, 2016)
Winsor & Newton continued to receive its packages right up to 2005. It was used by Rembrandt, Turner and Reynolds (but was later replaced by many artists with aureolin – an artificial yellow – less bright but not prone to fading). (St. Clair, Kassia, The Secret Lives of Colour, 2016)
You can also read about Indian Yellow and if it was from Indian cows fed on mango leaves and the history of Saffron in Saffron Walden (UK).
In Colour by Victoria Finlay another good read, Finlay provides an account on Ochre and the Ochre Massacre in Australia, Indian Yellow and her journey to find out if the story was true and she also looks at Saffron Walden.
In our next Blog we will be starting our journey through the Secondary Colours, commencing with the colour Green then Violet and finally Orange in further blog editions.
Until then stay safe and keep painting.