All Types of Yellow Colour Pigments used by artists for centuries
Yellow Ochre – (In Urdu and Farsi it is known as Zard, the Hindi name is Ramraj) – an iron oxide, it is usually found in the form of a coloured earth and is washed and finely ground and mixed with a binding medium.
Indian Yellow – (Indian name is Peuri or Gagoli) – it is said that this colour is made from the urine of cows fed on mangoes or mango leaves to produced a very bright and vivid yellow colour. Recent test have proved that this is only a tale of folklore. However due to this take it was not used in Islamic manuscripts dealing with sacred themes. Other references indicate that is a yellow earth found in India. This pigment is not commonly used due to its obscure source.
Orpiment – A brilliant yellow made from sulphide of arsennic which is dangerous to use. This stone is ground, washed and mixed with grum arabic.
Saffron Yellow – The most common yellow colour used in the Indian subcontinent. The saffron is boiled or soaked in water to give the liquid colour. The period of soaking the saffron depends on the intensity of the colour required. This solution does not need to be mixed with Gum Arabic or other binding medium .This solution is translucent; however, if mixed with a white colour becomes opaque but loses its original intensity.
Turmeric Yellow – This yellow is obtained by boiling the turmeric in water until it gives it the required colour, it is then filtered and some saffron is added and boiled again. This is filtered again and gall nut and Gum Arabic is added to the mixture before it cools down.
Text by Fatima Zahra Hassan
Extract from her PhD thesis, 1997, copyright @fzhassan & @fzhatelier
This month at The Conservation Center, we were inspired by the marvellous hues of autumn, as our hometown of Chicago is being swiftly engulfed by red, orange, and yellow leaves. So we decided to revive our Pigment of the Month segment. For the month of October, we chose a beautiful and historically fascinating yellow pigment- perfect for fall- with a very interesting story behind it.
Indian Yellow is a vivid orange-yellow pigment that originates from India in the 15th century and was mostly used there during the Mughal period. It was introduced to European artists shortly thereafter, where it was used until it became commercially unavailable in the early 20th century. This pigment was a popular choice among frescoists, oil painters, and watercolorists, although it was said to have an unpleasant odour.
This odor may stem from the alleged original source of the pigment— cow urine. Story goes that the cattle responsible for Indian Yellow were only fed water and mango leaves, ingredients that supposedly made their urine (and thereby the pigment) especially luminescent.
During the industrial revolution, as steamships took over from sailing ships and machines replaced manpower, many areas of innovation and technology were taking place including discoveries in new art materials. Depending on one’s perspective this was the end, or the dawn, of a new era, with natural light about to be replaced by Edison’s electric light at the end of the 19th century, and it is in J.M.W. Turner’s paintings that we see the embers of this era merging with the new industrial age.
Until Turner and Constable, ‘history painting’ was regarded by the Academy as the superior genre in painting, with landscape painting taking a lesser value. Part of Turner’s legacy is in the way he utilised landscape and seascape, elevating them to a higher genre, and using painting as a platform to document the changes taking place in society at that time. Take for example The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up (1838) in which an older decommissioned ship is towed by a new steamship. Through this genre he was able to narrate aspects of technological, political and social reforms taking place in society, capturing, in particular, the magnificence of natural sunlight. So obsessed was Turner with his palette of bright whites and burning yellows that one critic even suggested he had “yellow fever”.
Paintings such as his famous The Fighting Temeraire, read ambiguously as a sunset or sunrise, reflecting the pivotal changes taking place. Frequently using Gamboge and King’s Yellow to capture sunlight in its many forms: as an ethereal quality, in its abundance, in its lack, as a vapour, and, as a physical quality soon to be replaced by the artificial rays of Edison. In Gombrich’s words, Turner “had visions of a fantastic world bathed in light and resplendent with beauty, but it was a world not of calm, but of movement, not of simple harmonies but of dazzling pageantries…”