Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Making Colour and painting with poison

I highly recommend the new "Making Colour" exhibition at the National Gallery and will be giving it a full review very shortly - once I've finished work for the layouts for my book.

Making Colour - The Yellow and Orange Room
Find out more about the paintings in the Yellow and Orange Room in the exhibition on the exhibition website 
Those interested in the history of the development of colours and how colour changes over time will find it absolutely fascinating. So if you're not "all about the art" and have some room for the science as well I recommend you pay a visit if you can.

One picture in particular grabbed my attention - because I learned something completely new to me - and this is it.

Flowers in a Vase (c.1685) by Rachel Ruysch
Oil on canvas, 57 x 43.5 cm
National Gallery
Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) was Dutch still life painter who specialised in the painting of flowers. So naturally, I was gravitating towards this painting before I realised why it was in the exhibition!

The painting is in the exhibition to highlight the source and components of a natural orange pigment called Realgar.

One of the themes of the exhibition is the identification of colours - such as purple and orange - which were typically created using mixes of other pigments because there was either no naturally occurring mineral of that colour or it was difficult to obtain.

In the case of Realgar, it is one of the few sources of a natural orange pigment. However it contains arsenic, which means that those very nice orange day lilies were actually painted with a poison and are highly toxic!
Realgar is a highly toxic arsenic sulfide and was the only pure orange pigment until modern chrome orange.
Pigments through the ages
Realgar is made of arsenic and sulphur and is also known as "ruby of arsenic".  Its more common use is in rat poison.

The fact that this rather nice orange pigment was toxic meant is wasn't used very much - although it can be seen in Venetian paintings and some Dutch flower paintings.  Its use in painting died out in the 18th century.


  1. Hi Katherine, always so grateful for the way you keep us up to date! Good luck with layout!

  2. Hi Katherine, always so grateful for the way you keep us up to date! Good luck with layout!


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