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Spotlight on Color: Chinese White

  Chinese White 1865
Chinese White - Image from Winsor & Newton 1865 Catalogue
Chinese White is one of the most used colors by artists. It is excellent in mixing to take the edge off brighter colors, invaluable for highlights as it is not overly strong, and essential for white objects. Of course there is the view that the paper should be used as the white and there’s nothing wrong with that but learn to use it well and Chinese White will add to your repertoire not detract from it.

Zinc has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times and was isolated as an element in 1721. By the latter part of that century zinc oxide began to appear as an artists’ pigment in watercolor.  Its advantage was that it didn’t turn black as did lead white but it was relatively weak and transparent.

At the very beginning of their partnership, Winsor and Newton determined to improve artists’ pigments and zinc oxide was an enormous success, the first alternative to lead white.

Winsor and Newton heated zinc oxide to very high temperatures in these ovens and produced what they called Chinese White; at last an alternative white with good opacity. Together with their invention of watercolor pans, Chinese White certainly put their business on the map. It was not long before Rathbone Place got a reputation for being blocked with carriages trying to visit Winsor and Newton!

Chinese White was introduced in 1834 having been tested by Sir Michael Faraday, a pre-eminent scientist of his day.  Many artists also gave their approval, John Ruskin (1819-1900) used it from its introduction to his death.  Thomas Rowbotham (1783-1853) was a fan and even painted the Winsor and Newton factory in 1848-1849. Charles Cattermole (1832-1900) demonstrated Chinese White in a sketch in 1844 which hung in the Winsor & Newton Rathbone Place shop for more than 60 years.

Thomas Rowbotham - Winsor & Newton factoryThomas Rowbotham - Winsor & Newton Factory 1848-1849    Chinese White, 1866  










J.D. Harding (1798-1863) couldn’t praise Chinese White enough:

“December 4  1843
You have wished me to record my opinion of the pigment which you call Chinese White and I do so without hesitation from my consideration of the service your house inspired to art by its introduction.
In working it has every possible quality which I think could be desired added to which it appears to have the still greater essential of being permanent.  Since you introduced it now some years ago I have unhesitatingly used it having in the first instance obtained the opinion of one of our most distinguished chemists as regards its durability.  This being favourable in the most satisfactory degree, all my scruples were removed, and ever since my own practical experience has led me to confide in it, so that I no longer have the least doubt - none of my pictures give the least evidence of any change, and they all appear as fresh as ever.
I cannot refuse myself this opportunity of expressing my favourable opinion of your preparation of every material which is used in the Arts.
I am Gentleman
your obedient servant

JD Harding"

Chinese White is available in all of the Winsor & Newton ranges.  See our color charts