Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Forbes Pigment Collection

The Forbes Pigment Collection contains an assortment of over 3,000 synthetic and organic pigments that helps conservators, curators, and students study and safeguard artworks.
Pigment is a very small particle of coloured material that is mixed in with a binding medium. The pigment gives paint its colour.Narayan Khandekar Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies and Senior Conservation Scientist
This post is about:
  • an overview of the history behind the collection
  • a video of what it looks like and what it does
  • images of pigments in the collection
  • reading material (at the end) for the colour nerds who love this sort of thing (like me!) 

Tubes of pigment 
The collection of pigments was created by the late Edward Waldo Forbes, former Director of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University (1909-1945).

He regarded the Museum as a laboratory for art history. He founded the Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, which was later renamed the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard University.
  • the latter now houses the core collection of pigments from the Forbes Collection
  • Forbes' own private collection of pigments is located at the Institute for Fine Arts Conservation 
The collection provides material which enables pigments in paintings to be identified for both restoration and conservation - and to negate claims being made for fake paintings! 


This is a video about the collection and how they are protected



Interestingly the Museum of Fine Art in Boston has a page which unpicks the pigments down to their chemical composition.

To see what each pigment is made of:

  • Go to Forbes Pigment Database page
  • Click one of the colours of pigments - listed in blue
  • then click one of the categories of that colour (listed below)
  • then click one of the defined subsets to see the sources of colour (see after list of pigments below for an example)

White Pigments

  • 1.01 WHITE - Calcium Compounds
  • 1.02 WHITE - Aluminum Compounds
  • 1.03 WHITE - Magnesium Compounds
  • 1.04 WHITE - Silica Compounds
  • 1.05 WHITE - Lead Whites
  • 1.06 WHITE - Zinc Compounds
  • 1.06 WHITE - Zinc White
  • 1.07 WHITE - Barium White
  • 1.08 WHITE - Antimony Oxide
  • 1.09 WHITE - Titanium White (after 1920)
  • 1.10 WHITE - Unidentified
  • 1.20 WHITE - Japanese or Chinese
  • 1.20 White - Japanese or Chinese

Black Pigments

  • 2.01 BLACK - Carbon Blacks
  • 2.02 BLACK - Bone Blacks
  • 2.03 BLACK - Plant Blacks
  • 2.05 BLACK - Artificial Blacks
  • 2.06 BLACK - Inks
  • 2.07 BLACK - Miscellaneous
  • 2.20 BLACK - Oriental Pigments

Yellow Pigments

  • 3.01 YELLOW - Litharge/Massicot
  • 3.02 YELLOW - Orpiment
  • 3.03 YELLOW - Sienna
  • 3.04 YELLOW - Yellow Ochre
  • 3.05 YELLOW - Gamboge
  • 3.06 YELLOW - Naples Yellow
  • 3.07 YELLOW - Saffron
  • 3.08 YELLOW - Chrome Yellow
  • 3.09 YELLOW - Yellow Lake
  • 3.10 YELLOW - Cadmium Yellow
  • 3.11 YELLOW - Cobalt Yellow
  • 3.12 YELLOW - Mars yellow
  • 3.13 YELLOW - TitaniumYellow
  • 3.14 YELLOW - Indian Yellow
  • 3.15 YELLOW - Miscellaneous
  • 3.20 YELLOW - Oriental Pigments

Brown Pigments

  • 4.01 BROWN - Burnt Umber
  • 4.02 BROWN - Raw Umber
  • 4.03 BROWN - Burnt Terra Verte
  • 4.04 BROWN - Bituminous Browns
  • 4.06 BROWN - Mars Brown
  • 4.07 BROWN - Miscellaneous
  • 4.20 BROWN - Oriental Brown

Orange Pigments

  • 5.01 ORANGE - Arsenic Sulfides
  • 5.02 ORANGE - Chrome Orange
  • 5.03 ORANGE - Cadmium Orange
  • 5.04 ORANGE - Molybdate Orange
  • 5.05 ORANGE - Miscellaneous
  • 5.20 ORANGE - Oriental Pigments

Red Pigments
  • 6.01 RED - Burnt Siennas
  • 6.02 RED - Natural Iron Oxide Reds
  • 6.03 RED - Natural Dyes and Stains
  • 6.04 RED - Synthetic Red Dyestuffs
  • 6.05 RED - Vermilion
  • 6.06 RED - Ultramarine Red
  • 6.07 RED - Cadmium Red
  • 6.08 RED - Mars Red
  • 6.09 RED - Miscellaneous
  • 6.20 RED - Oriental Pigments
  • Violet Pigments
  • 7.01 VIOLET - Violet Pigments (artificial)
  • 7.20 VIOLET - Oriental Pigments

Armenian Bole, Red Bole, 1906. Harvard Art Museums/Straus Center
for Conservation and Technical Studies,
The Forbes pigment collection, Straus.203. 

Blue Pigments

  • 8.01 BLUE - Copper Blues (Carbonates and Oxides)
  • 8.02 BLUE - Ultramarine Blue (Natural and Artificial)
  • 8.03 BLUE - Cobalt Blues
  • 8.04 BLUE - Prussian Blue
  • 8.05 BLUE - Manganese Blue (1935)
  • 8.06 BLUE - Cyanine Blues
  • 8.07 BLUE - Blue Toners
  • 8.08 BLUE - Indigo
  • 8.09 BLUE - Maya Blue
  • 8.10 BLUE - Miscellaneous
  • 8.20 BLUE - Oriental Pigments

Green Pigments

  • 9.01 GREEN - Terre Verte
  • 9.02 GREEN - Malachite
  • 9.03 GREEN - Verdigris
  • 9.05 GREEN - Cobalt Green, 1780
  • 9.06 GREEN - Arsenic Greens- Emerald Green1814
  • 9.07 GREEN - Chrome Green, c 1820
  • 9.08 GREEN - Ultramarine Green
  • 9.09 GREEN - Viridian-Verte Emeraude c.1838
  • 9.10 GREEN - Chromium Oxide, c. 1862
  • 9.11 GREEN - Organic Greens
  • 9.12 GREEN - Miscellaneous
  • 9.20 GREEN - Oriental Green
This is an example of the reds which reside under 6.20 RED - Oriental Pigments
The "staff only" area of the museum where the The Forbes Pigment Collection is located can be viewed - but not visited - is on the Museums' 4th Level .

The Harvard Art Museums, (redesigned by architect Renzo Piano, are open 10am to 5pm, daily.

For more information - for the serious colour nerds


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