Spotlight on colour: Emerald Green


A colour to die for

Graphic arts colour matching experts, Pantone, have named Emerald Green as their colour of the year 2013. Consisting of copper aceto-arsenite, until the 1960s, it provided artists with a bright, clean emerald colour. No longer available to artists in its original form, Emerald Green has a controversial history but has successfully been replaced with synthetic pigments.

Genuine Emerald Green was first documented in 1822, gaining notoriety for its potentially fatal effects.  During the 1800s Emerald Green was a popular wallpaper colour, however, it was discovered that in damp conditions arsenical fumes were released.  There has been much speculation that Napoleon died as a result of arsenic poisoning from the wallpaper in his exile home on St Helens. Additionally, it has been cited as the cause of death of a Broadmoor prison inmate in England, who secretly collected sufficient Emerald Green by pretending to paint in order to commit suicide.

Today, the name Emerald is still present  in Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour as Winsor Emerald but is derived from phthalo pigments PG36 and PW4 rather than the original copper aceto-arsenite. Phthalo Green pigments were introduced in 1938 and are synthetic organic pigments from the group of phthalocyanine dyestuffs. Available as soft green powders insoluble in water, they pose no health hazards. (See our Spotlight on Phthalo Green). These green pigments were the ideal successor for Emerald Green as they create colour just as brilliant but much more permanent.

 A killer pigment thoughtout XIX c. Europe - Fashion plate from La Mode, 1848

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Thanks to phthalo pigments, artists today have a much wider choice of greens. Used in different combinations, phthalo pigments PG7 and PG35 are used for green hues ranging from transparent subtle natural colours to strong opaque brilliant ones. At Winsor & Newton these feature in most of our colour ranges and include names such as Phthalo Green (blue shade), Phthalo Green (yellow shade), and for our artists quality ranges, phthalo green is referred to as Winsor Green.