Spotlight on Permanent Carmine
Carmine and Crimson colours were both first lake colours. Originally they were made by extracting the dye from the kermes insect (one hypothesis of the origin of the word carmine or crimson). However, during the Renaissance a new source was found in the Mexican cochineal beetle. A tiny insect, it took around 70,000 of them to create a pound of cochineal pigment. Thus, for a long time Carmine Lakes were the strongest and most expensive lake pigment (Crimson Lake being the weaker alternative). The pigment was highly prized and difficult to obtain as until the 19th century Spain controlled the Mexican cochineal trade. In the 19th Century, to circumvent the Spanish trade and to have a more reliable supply, other countries, including the UK, started to develop their own cochineal sources. The dye was used for the distinctive British Army coats. Though it created a beautiful transparent red, the colour was highly fugitive and impermanent. It has, therefore, mostly been used as a source of food colouring in the 20th century.
Crimson remained in the painter’s palette as Alizarin Crimson was discovered and developed but a match for Carmine could not be found until the 1990s when Quinacridone pigments had been further developed. In 1996 Winsor & Newton proudly launched their Permanent Carmine which is the closest match to the original carmine and has the additional properties of being stable and permanent. It has a bluer undertone than Alizarin Crimson and its transparency makes it an ideal colour for glazing.