Spotlight on Colour: Rose Madder
Rose Madder is a distinctive rose coloured pigment made from the roots of the common madder plant, Rubia tinctorum. It is a transparent pigment with granulating properties in Water Colour. A natural organic lake pigment, it was first used as a dye for fabrics. Evidence of its use can be found in ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian cloths as far back as 1500 BC. Cloth dyed with madder root pigment was even found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Considered the most stable natural pigment, it was very sought after and was brought to Europe by the crusaders. By the 13th century, it was being cultivated across Europe, notably in the Netherlands as their sandy soil provided a favourable environment for the plant.
However, the production of madder dye was costly and by 1860, Great Britain was importing madder at the value of £1.25 million a year. It was necessary to find a better, more reliable method making of the pigment. The renowned colourist George Field made extensive study of the madder plant and in 1804, discovered a more efficient process of extracting the dye and making a stronger, more vibrant pigment. William Winsor understood the importance of George Field’s research and acquired Fields’ notes and experiments following his death in 1854. These 10 volumes formed a basis of some of the colour recipes for the then newly founded Winsor & Newton Company.