Colour Story: Emerald Green

Emerald green is a bright blue-green named after the precious gemstone, which gets its distinctive colour from trace amounts of chromium and vanadium. Also known as Schweinfurt green, Paris green and Veronese green, it’s been a popular colour throughout history and was Pantone’s Colour of the Year in 2013.

It has, however, had a controversial reputation as a colour to die for.

The emerald green pigment was first commercially produced in Schweinfurt, Germany in 1814. It was made by mixing and heating copper verdigris with vinegar and white arsenic, then grinding the sediment in linseed oil. Originally pitched as a more robust, lightfast version of Scheele’s green, the new pigment had a brilliance unlike any other copper green.

However, it also had the same tendency to blacken when mixed with sulphur-containing colours such as cadmium yellow, vermillion and ultramarine, and was highly poisonous due to its arsenic content. Emerald green pigment was cheap to produce and widely used to colour fabric, house paints and patterned wallpapers. But when wet these surfaces gave off toxic fumes and damp clothes or rooms could become death traps: Napoleon’s demise is said to have been hastened by his bathroom paint.

The original emerald green pigment was banned in the early 1900s, but the colour has remained a popular colour in artists’ palettes. Winsor Emerald, in our Artists’ Oil Colour range, recreates the same brilliant blue-green impact of the original, without the toxicity. It’s made from the PG36 phthalo green (yellow shade) pigment and PW5 white, rather than the original copper aceto-arsenite. Phthalo pigments were introduced in the 1930s and are synthetic pigments from the group of phthalocyanine dyes. Winsor Emerald poses no health hazards and is the ideal successor to genuine emerald green as it gives brilliant, bright and clean opaque colour, but is much more chemically stable, safe and permanent.