There is an abundance of history and innovation behind every one of the 109 colour pigments that make up Winsor & Newton’s Professional Watercolour range. We’ve picked out five iconic colours from the collection that span the colour spectrum – read on to explore each of their distinctive stories.
A transparent, deep-mustard pigment, Indian Yellow has depth, body and radiance, and was a prominent feature of artists such as J. M. W. Turner’s palettes. The pigment was originally imported from Kolkata, India, in the form of soft yellow lumps in sealed packages. When these were opened at Winsor & Newton a powerful smell of ammonia was reported, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the true origin of the pigment was discovered. It was revealed that Indian Yellow, a prized pigment, was made from the urine of cows fed exclusively on mango leaves. By the early 20th century, this practice was outlawed in Bengal and the pigment disappeared from the market. After much research, Winsor & Newton created a much sought-after synthetic alternative in 1996. Made of nickel azo, hansa yellow and quinacridone burnt orange, it closely resembles the original but with more stable, permanent – and far more palatable – results.
Cadmium-free Orange is a recent innovation by Winsor & Newton. It has a rich, vivid, opaque colour with deep red undertones. A compelling alternative to Cadmium Orange, it replicates cadmium’s valuable properties; bright mass tone, a subtle undertone for thin layers, strong tinting ability, viscosity, flow and a powerful archival lightfastness. Cadmium is a rare soft metal that was discovered in 1817 as a by-product of the zinc refining process. As it is a heavy metal there are concerns about toxicity and whether its long-term use in artists’ materials is sustainable, and so Winsor & Newton’s Cadmium-free watercolours were conceived as an alternative. The range is made up not of hues but rather new and sustainable colours that genuinely match the behaviours and properties of the metal-based original.
The Winsor family of colours are synthetic pigments bearing the name of one of the co-founders of Winsor & Newton, William Winsor. Winsor was a chemist who created many of the Winsor & Newton colour formulations we recognise today. Winsor Red is a warm mid-range red colour with orange undertones, suitable for mixes. It is a sustainable, good value alternative to cadmiums and is a Pyrrole pigment – as such, Winsor Red is extremely stable and lightfast, and was first detected by chemist F. F. Runge in 1834 as a constituent of coal tar.
Though unprepossessing and twig-like, the madder plant has a storied cultural history – from decorating the ruined buildings of Pompeii to its part as a roaring trade at the height of the British Industrial Revolution. Highly valued as a dye, madder is transformed into the delicate and beautiful artists’ pigment Rose Madder through the lake process, which fixes a dye onto an insoluble base. Renowned colourman George Field refined this process in 1804, creating a vibrant and durable pigment with a recipe that Winsor & Newton use to this day. Because madder was costly to grow, UK imports – coming primarily from the Netherlands – were valued at £1.25 million per annum in 1860. George Field made concerted efforts to grow Madder in West London and failed, as the climate of the South East would not support the plant. However, there were some areas of England that managed to grow madder – evidence of the trade can be found along the east coast, for example, the city of Norwich has a Maddermarket Theatre that was once overgrown with the plant.
Cobalt Blue Deep
A brilliant minister appointed to first consul Napoleon Bonaparte, Jean-Antoine Chaptal founded the Society for the Development of National Industry in 1801. He commissioned chemist Louis Thénard to develop affordable blue colouring materials. Originally known as Thénard’s Blue, Cobalt Blue began production in 1807. Cobalt Blue Deep is its sister pigment and has a darker, red shade and powerful granulating properties.
Cobalt Green Deep
Cobalt Green, also referred to as Rinman's Green, was discovered by Swedish chemist Sven Rinman in 1780. He found that adding small amounts of cobalt to colourless zinc oxide produced a unique granulating colour with a strong blue undertone, resulting in rich and beautiful opaque tones. Interestingly, Cobalt Green pigment has scientific applications beyond painting, as it exhibits magnetic properties at room temperature.
Interested in learning more? There are 104 more colours to discover in the Professional Watercolour range, each with their own unique properties and characteristics that make up the stories behind how they came to be.
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Colour story: Indian Yellow
Indian Yellow is a luminous golden pigment with excellent transparency and glazing qualities. It is widely admired for its depth, body and radiance in oil and watercolour painting.