book-70 Contents

palette-70 List of Pigments

archive-70 Web Archive:

Paul Signac Contribution of the Impressionists in From Eugene Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism Paris, 1899

19th century painters had a new range of pigments to choose from due to the invention of synthetic pigments – chemically synthesised in the laboratory – around 1800. Almost exactly one half of the pigments that made up the palettes of the French Impressionist painters were synthetics, the others being the historical pigments. The palettes of Cézanne, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Signac, Seurat and Van Gogh are given in this little book.

In their investigations into light, several scientists – James Clerk Maxwell, Ogden Rood – compared the measurements of the wavelengths of colours in a band of prismatic light with certain painters’ pigments to discover their similarity. As the human eye is also a prism, the correspondence was determined: the colours the eye sees are the colours of light and, by extension, selected pigment colours could capture light exactly. The French Impressionist painters seized on this reality and began to paint light with their new “solar palettes”.

These discoveries are presented by the Editor in this collection of short texts by scientists and painters.


I•  Plates –

1 • M. E. Chevreul, Chromatic Circle of Hues  2 • French edition  3 • M. E. Chevreul, Optical Complementary Colours   4 • H. v. Helmholtz, Prism Spectrum of Sunlight with Corresponding Pigment Swatches; Van Gogh’s Palette   5 • J. C. Maxwell, Primary Colours of Light   6 • The Brushstroke

II• Presentation

  III• “Our Studies of Light” – 1• Complementary Colours Combine to White Colourless Light in the Spectrum and to Luminosity in the Eye; 2• On the Mixing of Light and on Optical Mixing; 3• Prismatic-Pigment Correspondences; 4• From Sunrise to Sunset

IV• Complementary Colours Combine to White Colourless Light in the Spectrum and to Luminosity in the Eye

Texts by M. E. Chevreul

V•  On the Mixing of Light and on Optical Mixing

Texts by Ogden N. Rood

VI•   Prismatic- Pigment Correspondences According to

Hermann von Helmholtz and Ogden Rood

Texts by Hermann von Helmholtz and Ogden N. Rood

VII•  Palettes of the Solar Spectrum

P. Cézanne, E. Manet, C. Monet, C. Pissarro, P.-A. Renoir, G. Seurat, P. Signac, V. van Gogh

VIII•  Pigments of the Solar Palette – Descriptions

IX•   Plates – Pigments of the Solar Palette – Colour Swatches



All the pigments are Synthetic unless otherwise indicated


Alizarin red lake

Cadmium red

Carmine – Artificial, animal

Rose madder – Vegetable and Synthetic

Red ochre – Natural

Vermilion and Cinnabar – Artificial and Natural


Cadmium yellow orange

Chrome yellow orange

Gamboge – Natural

Minium or Red Lead – Artificial


Brilliant yellow


Chrome Yellow

Cobalt yellow, called Aureolin

Litharge – Artificial

Naples yellow – Artificial

Ochre, Natural

Orpiment, Natural

Siennas  and Umbers – Natural


Brunswick green  – Natural and Mixed

Cadmium green

Chrome green

Chromium oxide green

Cobalt green – compound pigment mixture

Emerald Green, Scheele’s  Green, Schweinfurt Green,

Vert Véronèse

Terre verte / Green earth – Natural

Viridian, Vert emeraude



Cobalt Blue

Cyan Blue identified as Prussian Blue

Indigo ­– Artificial, plant

Prussian Blue

Ultramarine – Natural and Artificial




Manganese violet

Ultramarine violet


Ivory black – Artificial, plant

Lamp black – Artificial, plant

Peach black – Artificial, plant


Silver white / blanc d’argent

archive-120Paul Signac
Contribution of the Impressionists
From Eugene Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism
Paris, 1899

Paragraphs 1 to 5
Translated by Patricia Railing
Forthcoming in
Impressionism – Art & Optics of Light
Contribution of the Impressionists
Jongkind, precursor, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro.
Guillaumin, Cézanne, Sisley.
At the beginning they were influenced by Courbet and Corot. Turner brought them back to Delacroix.
The simplified palette.
Pure colours are dulled by mixtures.
The sensation and the method.

1.  After Delacroix, those who will be the champions of colour and of light are the painters who later were called the Impressionists: Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Guillaumin, Sisley, Cézanne and their admirable precursor, Jongkind.

The latter was the first to reject the flat hue, break up his colour, fragment his strokes ad infinitum, and who obtained the finest colourings in the combinations of many and almost pure elements.

At this time those who would be Impressionists were influenced by Courbet and Corot, apart from Renoir who came instead from Delacroix after whom he made copies and interpretations. They were still painting in large areas, flat and undefined, and seemed to be exploring white, black and grey rather than pure and vibrant colours, while Fantin Latour, the painter of the Homage to Delacroix and so many other serious or serene works, draws and paints with hues and tones which, even if not intense, at least they were graded and separated. But in 1871 during a long sojourn in London, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro discovered Turner. They marvelled at the magic and enchantment of his colouring. They studied his works, analysing his craft. They were especially struck by his effects of snow and ice. They were astonished by the way in which he succeeded in giving a sensation of the whiteness of snow, they who until then had not been able to achieve this in the use of large patches of silver white [pigment] spread out flatly using large brush strokes. They noticed that this marvellous result was obtained not by a unified white but by many strokes of various colours set next to each other and which at a distance reconstituted the desired effect.

This method of using multicoloured strokes  – which they first noticed in the effects of snow because they were surprised at not seeing it represented using white and grey as was the custom – they then found was used in the most intense and brightest paintings by the English artist. It is thanks to this device that these canvases appear to be painted not with ordinary paints but with ethereal colours.

2.  Returning to France and absorbed by their discovery, Monet and Pissarro joined Jongkind who was then fully in possession of his effective craft which allowed him to interpret the most fleeting and most subtle plays of light. They noticed the analogy of his methods with those of Turner. They understood all the benefits that could be drawn from the purity of the one and the texture of the other. Little by little, the blacks and earth [pigments] disappeared from their paintings and soon they began to decompose the hues and reconstitute them on the canvas in tiny flecks, which they juxtaposed.

From the undeniable influence that Turner and Jongkind were having on them the Impressionists were thus brought back to Delacroix’s technique, from which they had distanced themselves in order look for an application in the oppositions of white and black. For is not the fleck in the Impressionist painting like the hatchings in Delacroix’s large decorative panels reduced to the proportion of small format canvases to which the work after nature is subject? It is the very same method they all employed in order to obtain the same goal: light and colour.

Jules Laforgue aptly remarked on this descendent:

“The vibrancy of the Impressionists using a thousand dancing flakes. Marvellous discovery foreshadowed by the madness of movement, Delacroix who, in the cold furies of romanticism and not satisfied by violent and wild movements of colour, modelled with vibrant hatchings.”

3.  But while Delacroix used a complex palette made up of pure colours and earth colours, the Impressionists used a simplified palette composed of seven or eight of the brightest colours which were closest to those of the solar spectrum. As of 1874 Monet, Pissarro, Renoir – who was the first? it doesn’t matter – had on their palettes only yellows, oranges, vermilions, lakes, reds, violets, blues, and intense greens such as emerald and viridian.

This simplification of the palette, which gave them a very limited range of colours, forced them to decompose the hues and to multiply the elements. They made every effort to reconstitute the colourings by an optical mixing of the innumerable multicoloured flecks that were juxtaposed, criss-crossed and intermingled. 

4.  Taking advantage of these new means – decomposition of the tones and exclusive use of saturated colours – they could paint the landscapes of the Ile-de-France or of Normandy and make them much brighter and more luminous than Delacroix’s oriental scenes. For the first time one could admire landscapes and figures that were truly sunlit. No longer needed was the bituminous and dark foreground which served as a foil for their predecessors – even for Turner – in order to make the background appear luminous and coloured.

The entire surface of the painting was resplendent with sunlight. Air circulated, light enveloped, wafted around and radiated the forms, penetrating everywhere even in the shadows that it illumined.

Fascinated by the enchantments of nature, the Impressionists, thanks to a quick and assured execution, became able to fix the animation of these scenes. They are the glorious painters of fleeting effects and momentary impressions.

[1] [Signac uses “le véronèse et l’émeraude”, terms that are often confused in translations, even in the 19th century. Vert Véronèse is copper arsenate, called emerald green in English. Vert émeraude is viridian in English, chromium oxide dihydrate, the original chromium oxide green discovered in 1838 by Pannetier, a Paris colour maker, then developed and patented in 1859 by Guignet. Ed.]
[2] [By “their predecessors” Signac is referring to the Barbizon painters known as the school of 1830, their landscapes described by a writer who understood and defended Impressionism, Edmond Duranty. In 1/1876, The New Painting, herein) he wrote, “The Romantic artist, in his studies of light, knew nothing but the orange-tinted band of the setting sun over sombre hills, or the white impasto tinged with chrome yellow or rose madder which he threw across the opaque bitumen of his woods. No light could exist without bitumen, without ivory black or Prussian blue, without the contrasts that were said to make the tone appear warmer, to heighten it. He believed that light coloured and awakened tone and was persuaded that it could not exist unless surrounded by shadow.” Ed.]

Van Gogh’s “Practical Palette” 1882 

Reading the palette from right to left,  Vermilion, Ivory black, Cobalt blue, Raw Sienna, Burnt ochre, Red ochre, Yellow ochres, Naples yellow, Silver white.

Descriptions of some of Van Gogh’s pigments, the entries taken from J. F. L. Mérimée, De la peinture à l’huile, Paris, 1830 / On Oil Painting, London 1849. Our translations.
Vermilion / Vermillon. Cinnabar is also called vermilion from the Italian name vermiglio (small worm), given to the colour of the kermes (coccus ilicis) which was used in scarlet dye before the discovery of the cochenille in America. Cinnabar is the combination of mercury and sulphur. It is found ready-formed in mercury mines but what is used in painting is a product of skill…. Sulphur and mercury are sublimed to which potassium is slowly added giving a liquid mixture which is evaporated over heat to bring up the red colour. The longer the heating the redder the colour becomes. When the desired colour is obtained the mixture is thrown into cold water, washed and then ground into the pigment.
17c-small-28 Ivory black / Noir d’ivoire is made by the calcination of small pieces which, in the working of ivory come away by the saw or turning tools. The black that results is very intense and transparent.
image-small-23Cobalt blue / Bleu de cobalt. In 1802, M. Thénard made this important discovery. Requested by Count Chaptal, then Minister of the Interior, to take account of painters’ needs and to improve the pigments, in carrying out the necessary research he was able to obtain a bright and stable blue by calcining a mixture of aluminium with cobalt salt.
Red ochre / Ochre rouge. The name of brown red that is givimage-small-25en to red ferrous oxide is perfectly suited to it. It is in fact a red colour altered by a brown tone. Nature often gives us the brown red ready-formed. If by some circumstance the water it contains, combined with the ferrous oxide, transforms it into a hydrate, the oxide takes on the colour red…. Most of the brown reds used in painting are obtained by calcining yellow ochres. It is thought that the more the ochres are pure, the more beautiful are the reds they produce when calcined.
17c-small-20Yellow ochres / Ochres jaunes. Ochres are ferrous hydrates, that is to say made of water and iron oxide, containing various earths in different proportions with which they are mixed and sometimes even combined. The more the earths are mixed, the lighter the colour of the ochres. Those that contain clay have an oily feel to the touch and more body than those that are mixed with chalk or silica…. From ancient paintings it is seen how stable the ochres are. In a paint box found at Pompeii, and which Count Chaptal was requested to analyse, he remarked on the yellow ochre which had been purified by washing and which had retained all its brightness.
image-small-29Naples yellow / Jaune de Naples. The discovery of this pigment goes back to antiquity at the time of the manufacturing of enamels…. Then, in 1758 the publica–tion by a Mr. Passeri on the manufacture of faience gives a recipe containing antimony, lead, common salt, and tartaric acid. Later, M. Guimet (who discovered artificial ultramarine) found that without the salt the colour was a more intense golden yellow, the recipe consisting of well-washed potassium antimonite and pure lead oxide (red lead, minium).
18c-small-18Silver white / Blanc d’argent. Silver white is made according to the recipe for Cremnitz white (blanc de Krems) in which carbonic acid in the form of wine lees is added to the vinegar and the lead plates are corroded in a drying oven. The result is a finer and whiter pigment that with the traditional method for making white lead.


A selection of Impressionist paintings in the National Gallery, London, whose pigments have been analysed by its Conservation Department, the results published in their Technical Bulletins and in Art in the Making: Impressionism (D. Bomford, J. Kirby, J. Leighton, A. Roy, R. White, L. Williams), and Art in the Making: Degas (D. Bomford, S. Herring, J. Kirby, C. Riopelle, A. Roy).
For full descriptions see article referenced.
White lead
(Not “lead white”, a 20th century inversion.)

Claude Monet, 1840 - 1926 The Gare St-Lazare 1877 Oil on canvas, 54.3 x 73.6 cm Bought, 1982 NG6479

Claude Monet, 1840 – 1926
The Gare St-Lazare
Oil on canvas, 54.3 x 73.6 cm
Bought, 1982

Steam on left is pure white lead; above: tinted with cobalt blue or an unidentified red lake. (A. Roy, “The Palettes of Three Impressionist Paintings”, National Gallery Technical Bulletin Volume 9, 1985; Art in the Making: Impressionism, No. 10.)
Chrome Yellows, Yellow Ochre

Vincent van Gogh, 1853 - 1890 Sunflowers 1888 Oil on canvas, 92.1 x 73 cm Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1924 NG3863

Vincent van Gogh, 1853 – 1890
Oil on canvas, 92.1 x 73 cm
Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1924

A painting in yellow using chrome yellow pigments and yellow ochres toned between light and dark.
Chrome Orange

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841 - 1919 The Skiff (La Yole) 1875 Oil on canvas, 71 x 92 cm Bought, 1982 NG6478

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841 – 1919
The Skiff (La Yole)
Oil on canvas, 71 x 92 cm
Bought, 1982

The edge of the skiff is pure chrome orange, with chrome orange, chrome yellow, and strontium yellow making up the side. (Art in the Making: Impressionism, No. 11.)
Vermilion, Red Lead and Venetian Red Ochre

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, 1834 - 1917 Combing the Hair ('La Coiffure') about 1896 Oil on canvas, 114.3 x 146.7 cm Bought (Knapping Fund), 1937 NG4865

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, 1834 – 1917
Combing the Hair (‘La Coiffure’)
about 1896
Oil on canvas, 114.3 x 146.7 cm
Bought (Knapping Fund), 1937

A painting in red using three red pigments for their differences in tones and textures. The curtain is largely Venetian red, the upper parts highlighted with a mixture of the three pigments. The young woman’s dress is of Venetian red brushed over in vermilion. The wall on the right is red lead. (Art in the Making: Degas, National Gallery, 2004.)
Emerald Green

Paul Cézanne, 1839 - 1906 Hillside in Provence about 1890-2 Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 79.4 cm Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1926 NG4136

Paul Cézanne, 1839 – 1906
Hillside in Provence
about 1890-2
Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 79.4 cm
Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1926

Emerald green is used through the middle of the painting for the green fields and in the trees very small amounts of viridian have been mixed in to tone the greens. (A. Roy, “The Palettes of Three Impressionist Paintings”, National Gallery Technical Bulletin Vol. 9, 1985; Art in the Making: Impressionism, No. 15.)
Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine Blue

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841 - 1919 The Umbrellas about 1881-6 Oil on canvas, 180.3 x 114.9 cm Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917 NG3268

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841 – 1919
The Umbrellas
about 1881-6
Oil on canvas, 180.3 x 114.9 cm
Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917

This blue painting was rendered in rich cobalt blues, while the ultramarine blues were applied later and have been damaged in restoration, losing their intensity. (Art in the Making: Impressionism, No. 14.)