Spotlight on colour: Indian Yellow


Indian Yellow Colour, also known as Piuri or Purree is a vibrant yellow pigment with excellent tinting qualities.

As its name suggests, Indian Yellow is believed to have originated in India during the 15th century, specifically in Monghyr (a city in Bengal). It was a natural organic lake pigment, valued for its warm colour, transparency and lightfastness. To create the colour, cows were fed an exclusive diet of mango leaves. They urinated into the sand; dark yellow brown lumps were then collected, powdered and purified. Lumps of the pigment can be seen in Winsor & Newton’s museum cabinets which are mercifully kept closed.

The Dutch had strong trading links with India in the 17th Century and it is believed that through the Dutch painters, they brought the pigment to prominence in Europe. At that time, lightfast yellows were difficult to find and the pigment quickly spread across Europe. Great masters such as J. M. W. Turner included Indian Yellow in their watercolour palette and later the Scottish Colourists used its oil colour variant for their vivid fluid paintings.

Though it has been contested, it is widely believed that an inquiry into the origins of the colour was undertaken by The Journal of the Society of Arts in London in the late 19th century and that the colour was taken out of the market in the early 20th century due to the cruelty inflicted upon the cows. A sole diet of mango leaves left them in a perpetual state of near starvation as well as discomfort due to the leaves’ toxins. After this, it was difficult to recreate a pigment of similar lightfastness until Winsor & Newton recreated effective alternatives in 1996, formulated to deliver the best from the respective media.       

Available in oil and watercolour, Indian Yellow is a transparent colour which is famed for its glazing properties. As a warm golden yellow, it is an excellent staple in any oil or watercolour painter’s palette.