Spotlight on: Winsor Orange

Winsor Orange is a single pigment orange, created to be a bold and vibrant orange for artists. Whilst orange can be done easily by mixing red and yellow, variations can occur if proportions differ, so you can turn to Winsor Orange when you need consistency.

Orange has a fascinating multi-cultural history, although we didn’t give this colour the name ‘orange’ until the 16th century; before that it was known as ‘yellow-red’ or, in the English language, it was called ‘saffron’. Orange wasn’t used as a name for this colour until orange trees arrived in Europe from Asia and then the name for the fruit was used for this colour across different languages, including Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and, of course, English.

Despite the relatively modern name, orange dates back centuries to the ancient Egyptians, who used the colour in their tomb paintings.  They made the colour from realgar, which was a toxic mineral that contained arsenic.  To give it some context: the Chinese used realgar to repel snakes! The Romans were also a fan of orange but they derived their orange colour from another source: orpiment. This substance yields a golden yellow-orange and was used in Medieval times to illuminate manuscripts; this makes perfect sense because the colour signified a quest for knowledge.

The symbolism of orange as a special colour is reflected in many cultures. For example, Buddhist monks used saffron to dye their distinctively coloured holy robes as the colour was deemed to represent perfection and balance. Confucianism sees the colour as representative of transformation, and in countries such as India and China, it is seen as a perfectly balanced colour between beauty (yellow) and fire (red).  It also has associations to fertility and abundance, so artists often painted the goddess Pomona in orange draped robes.

Impressionists were particularly fond of orange, with Cezanne creating orange from yellow, red and ochre against a blue background, blue being the complementary colour to orange.  Van Gogh was so enamoured with the colour and the relationship it has with blue that he used them together extensively and wrote about it in letters to his brother Theo, saying ‘there is no orange without blue.’

The story of orange is perhaps the most varied and rich of all colours, given that people have sought to include it in their culture and daily life as a form of symbolism for centuries.  Modern artists now have a range of options for including orange in their work, with semi-opaque and lightfast Winsor Orange being one of them.  It stands up beautifully on its own and mixes well with other colours to create a range of oranges.