The History of Prussian Blue

Prussian Blue (pigment index number PB27) is deep and inky color. Its affect can be witnessed across art history– it is the characteristic pigment of Picasso’s Blue Period, it was a favourite amid the painters of the Baroque and Rococo durations, and it is the color that is made in the cyanotype approach (so supplying us the phrase ‘blueprint’). This posting seems to be at the intriguing historical past of the color, its use in Japanese printmaking, and why acrylic painters are tricky-pressed to obtain a genuine Prussian Blue paint.



The Historical past of Prussian Blue

Prussian Blue was designed by accident in 1704. There are various accounts as to the actual tale behind the colour, but the most fascinating is from German health practitioner Georg Ernst Stahl (1659–1734). He claims that a pigment maker in Berlin named Diesbach was earning a batch of a Crimson Lake pigment working with potash, crushed cochineal insects, and iron sulfate. Possessing operate out of potash, he went to neighborhood pharmacist Johann Konrad Dippel to purchase some far more. Dippel, possibly searching to fleece Diesbach, marketed him potash that was contaminated with dried cattle blood. When Diesbach tried using to make his crimson pigment, it built a deep blue pigment as a substitute. Dippel realized that it was his adulterated potash that had induced this response and saw a business enterprise opportunity, so he conducted further experiments and commercialised the color beneath the identify Berlin Blue. Dippel kept the composition of the pigment a shut mystery, consequently amassing a considerable fortune. Unfortunately for Dippel, an English chemist reverse-engineered it in 1724 and released the formulation. With his resource of profits all but gone, Dippel left Berlin, but his enterprising did not prevent there. He claimed he had discovered an elixir of existence and attempted to acquire a castle in trade for it (an present that was turned down). Rumours spread accusing him of grave-robbing, experimenting with cadavers, and currently being in league with the devil. Some even theorise that he encouraged Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Putting aside its relatively intriguing origin story, Prussian Blue was an very important pigment advancement. It was the to start with artificial blue pigment to be invented considering that the historical Egyptians invented Egyptian Blue. The next big developments– Cobalt Blue and artificial Ultramarine Blue– arrived a lot more than a century afterwards.


La Célestine (La femme à la taie) (La Celestina), 1904
Pablo Picasso
Oil on canvas, 74.5 × 58.5 cm | 29 × 23 in


Prussian Blue in Japanese Printmaking

While Prussian Blue was enthusiastically adopted by European easel painters, it was Japanese artists who arguably manufactured best use of its tonal capabilities. It took centre-phase in 19th century Japan by way of the aizuri-e style of woodblock printing, in which the graphic is printed predominantly in blue. Aizuri-e experienced historically utilized indigo ink, but Prussian Blue was identified to be extra lightfast and extra prosperous in colour. Its unique suitability for this mono-pigment method hinges on its ability of a selection of tonal values, and we can find this in the work of a lot of Japanese artists of the Edo interval. The most renowned in Europe is without doubt Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) His sequence 36 Sights of Fuji are produced just about completely with Prussian Blue ink.


Hokusai's Kajikazawa in Kai Province is printed with only Prussian Blue

Katsushika Hokusai
Kajikazawa in Kai Province, from the collection Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (1830)
Woodblock print on paper, 26.2 x 38.7 cm | 10.3 x 15.2 in


As exemplified in the over print, it could be utilized in slender, clear layers to the block for graduating washes of light-weight blue that give an perception of looking into the hazy length, but it was equally adept for darkish passages of color that are in the vicinity of black, like we see on the idea of Mount Fuji and the figures in the foreground. Even just applying just one colour, it offers an total effect of depth and a full tonal assortment.



Why Does Pigment PB27 not Look in Most Acrylic Ranges?

Prussian Blue is included in a lot of ranges of reduction printmaking inks, a nod to its iconic record in woodblock printing. It can also be discovered in most oil and watercolour ranges. On the other hand, the authentic pigment is found only hardly ever in acrylic ranges. This is simply because of Prussian Blue’s sensitivity to alkaline substances. It wants a binder that reads at pH7 or a lot less. Linseed oil and gum arabic (the binders for oil and watercolour paints) are equally somewhat acidic. Acrylic polymer emulsion, on the other hand, is an alkaline medium. If you are wanting for a Prussian Blue acrylic, there are many ranges that recreate the colour with a mixture of pigments. For case in point:

There is just one exception– Matisse Derivan’s Acrylic vary carries a legitimate Prussian Blue with the pigment amount PB27. It would seem that they’ve put a whole lot of function into testing diverse formulations of the color, and the question stays as to why other acrylic ranges have not done the exact. The reply could lie in the fairly controversial issue of Prussian Blue’s permanance.



How Long lasting is PB27 in Other Mediums?

Even even though it is acceptable for oil and watercolour binders, Prussian Blue has a somewhat negative popularity. It became obvious shortly soon after its invention that it was unstable and susceptible to fading when exposed to gentle or mixed with specified alkaline pigments. Throughout the adhering to centuries quite a few distinctive producers ended up creating the pigment, and not always to the ideal specifications, so when Phthalocyanine pigments have been launched in the middle of the 20th century a lot of artists had been relieved to go away driving the possibly troublesome Prussian Blue in favour for the reliably lightfast Phthalo Blue. Phthalo Blue is a extremely similar colour- it has the same large tonal range, eco-friendly undertone, and robust tinting power (having said that, Phthalo Blue is more lively when compared to the moody Prussian Blue).



The output of pigment PB27 has been refined around the last 100 many years. There are a lot of strategies to strengthen the permanence of the pigment– for instance, the larger sized pigment particle dimensions, the better it performs in lightfastness exams. Nonetheless, the permanence of Prussian Blue is inconsistent. Paint suppliers generally listing it as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’, but these market-standard lightfastness exams aren’t always reflective of real use– most artists perform with glazes, washes, and tints of colour, all of which can have an outcome on how the pigment performs. Numerous impartial checks carried out by artists clearly show that there is substantial variation in lightfastness. Bruce MacEvoy of Handprint tested a range of Prussian Blue watercolours and uncovered that some faded slightly, some substantially, and some hardly improved at all. What is unquestionably clear is that Prussian Blue is much more susceptible to fading when blended with a white pigment. According to a examine by the Nationwide Gallery, London, this is for the reason that the addition of white raises the reflection of mild in the paint layer. Apparently, Prussian Blue paint that has light recovers its color following remaining saved briefly in a dim area with great airflow. There have been many studies that exhibit this is the situation, and some museums rotate their shown collections to guarantee that functions that contains Prussian Blue have some time to recuperate.


Color Mixing with Prussian Blue

Prussian Blue genuinely is an remarkable mixing colour. When first mixing with a blue, it feels natural to to start with get to for yellows to see what kind of greens it generates. The greens it helps make with Lemon Yellow are practically neon– the forms that are hardly ever identified in mother nature and which evoke fluorescent artificial mild. Nickel Azo Yellow, on the other hand, make a spectrum of golden, autumnal greens that are at residence in a landscape palette. Prussian Blue’s distinctly inexperienced undertone makes it an intriguing blue to combine with any red. With Indian Purple (an similarly superior tinting and deep-bellied colour) it makes a chromatic black, which is fantastic for artists who desire not to use a legitimate black in their palette.





These 3 mixtures expose Prussian Blue to be an extremely functional mixing color. Permit us know how you use it, by leaving a comment underneath.



Further Reading

Venetian Crimson: the Crimson Earth Pigment That Evokes the Italian Renaissance

Pigment Color Index: Blue Pigments

Colour Mixing: the Atmospheric Good quality of Great Color Palettes

Recreating Rembrandt’s Colour Palette With Fashionable Pigments


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Evie Hatch

Evie’s pursuits lie in the record and qualities of artist colours and products. This investigation performs a large part in her artwork follow she enjoys investigating conventional approaches and makes her personal watercolour and oil paints. Evie graduated in 2016 from Camberwell Faculty of Artwork with a diploma in Drawing. She is currently learning Art History at the Courtauld Institute, London.

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