Monday, February 28, 2011
Know your paint: Prussian blue
Prussian blue is an earthy, ferric-looking blue that reminds me of the big earth-tone-with-black painters, like Courbet, or Constable's skies. It's pretty neutral, but seems to be very slightly towards the green side. Introduced in the early 18th century, it is one of the first chemically-synthesized colors, and predecessor of thalo blue in the category of being so strong that it tends to quickly spread and taint your entire palette. For that and other reasons (I think it's said to be prone to cracking) it's always been regarded as being difficult to deal with.
Wikipedia makes no mention of it, but I remember reading that German and French artists tried to blame each other for it- the French called it Prussian blue, and the Germans called it "Paris" blue. Not unlike syphilis, which 'had been called the "French disease" in Italy, Poland and Germany, and the "Italian disease" in France', and so on.
Before Prussian blue painters had to use expensive ultramarine (usually under threat of lawsuit from clients) or non-lightfast pigments like indigo. It's commonly used as a siccative for oil paints- a small quantity is added to other colors to help them dry faster. Makes a rich black when mixed with raw or burnt umber. It's also the blue used in blueprints and crayons.
It's a tough, ugly color. You can't just slap a bunch of it down and dazzle people.