Transcript: Science writer Philip Ball | Apr 07, 2007

[Theme music plays]

The opening sequence rolls. The logo of “Big Ideas” featuring a lit lamp bulb appears against an animated green slate.
Then, Andrew Moodie appears in the studio. The walls are decorated with screens featuring lit lamp bulbs, and two signs read “Big Ideas.”
Andrew is in his early forties, clean-shaven, with short curly black hair. He's wearing a yellow shirt under a brown coat.

Andrew says HELLO.
THIS IS
BIG IDEAS.
I'M ANDREW MOODIE, AND THIS...

He shows an oil painting depicting a toddler with curly black hair holding his face as he sighs.

Andrew continues IS A PAINTING BY KIRSTEN JOHNSON.
SHE'S A VERY TALENTED TORONTO
ARTIST, AND HER WORK IS VERY
POPULAR RIGHT NOW.
SHE HAS SAID THAT SHE'S BEEN
INFLUENCED BY THE
PRE-RAPHAELITES, AND YOU CAN SEE
IT IN HER WORK.
YOU CAN SEE IT IN THE INTENSE
USE OF COLOUR, OF THE
METICULOUSNESS OF HER DETAIL AND
THE QUATTROCENTO COMPOSITION.
HOWEVER, I DIDN'T BRING THIS IN
FOR YOU TO ADMIRE THE PAINTER,
NO.
I WANT YOU TO THINK OF THE
ASPECT OF THE PAINTING THAT IS
JUST USUALLY TAKEN FOR
GRANTED -- THE PAINT ITSELF.
TODAY'S LECTURE IS ABOUT THE
PIGMENTS AND DYES THAT HAVE BEEN
CREATED OVER THE CENTURIES AND
HOW THE SEARCH FOR BETTER AND
DEEPER AND RICHER COLOUR HAS LED
TO THE DEATH OF ONE OF THE
GREATEST MILITARY LEADERS IN
EUROPEAN HISTORY, HOW IT CURED A
VIRUS THAT HAD PLAGUED MANKIND
FOR CENTURIES, AND HOW THAT IN
TURN LED TO THE CREATION OF THE
PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY.
(Clicks tongue)
NOT BAD FOR ONE LECTURE.
PHILIP BALL, OUR GUIDE TO THE
WORLD OF COLOUR, HAS STUDIED
CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS AND IS A
SCIENCE WRITER.
HE'S THE AUTHOR OF
BRIGHT EARTH,
A BOOK ON
WHICH THIS TALK IS BASED.
AND IF SOMEHOW IT SOUNDS
FAMILIAR, IT'S BECAUSE THIS IS
AN ENCORE PRESENTATION.
SOME OF YOU HAVE ASKED TO SEE IT
AGAIN, AND WE'RE ONLY HAPPY TO
OBLIGE.

A clip plays in which Philip Ball stands on a stage in a dimly lit auditorium. He’s in his forties, clean-shaven, with short receding brown hair. He’s wearing a washed red shirt.

Philip says THE TOPIC THAT
I'M GOING TO TALK ABOUT TONIGHT
STEMS FROM A VERY SIMPLE
QUESTION THAT'S POSED BY A
PAINTING LIKE THIS ONE.

A colourful abstract painting appears on a giant screen behind him.

He continues THIS WAS PAINTED IN 1914 BY
WASSILY KANDINSKY, AND IT
CONFRONTS US WITH MANY
QUESTIONS.
WHAT LED KANDINSKY TO ABANDON
THE FIGURATIVE FOR THE ABSTRACT?
WHAT DID THESE FORMS MEAN TO
HIM?
WHAT'S HE TRYING TO TELL US?
WELL, THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS
THAT ART HISTORIANS AND CRITICS
HAVE TENDED TO PONDER, BUT WHAT
IS IT THAT STRIKES YOU FIRST OF
ALL ABOUT THIS PICTURE?
I WOULD SAY THAT IT'S THE
VIBRANCY AND THE RICHNESS AND
THE EXUBERANCE OF THE COLOURS,
AND THAT RAISES ANOTHER
QUESTION, ONE THAT THE HISTORY
OF ART HAS TENDED SOMETIMES TO
NEGLECT.
WHAT IS THIS PICTURE MADE FROM?
WE TEND TO TAKE THESE SORTS OF
COLOURS FOR GRANTED NOW.
YOU CAN WALK INTO A PAINT SHOP,
AND YOU SEE RACK UPON RACK OF
BRIGHTLY-COLOURED TUBES OF
PAINT.
IF YOU LOOK AT SOME OF THEM,
THEY HAVE NAMES THAT HINT AT
SOME RELATION TO CHEMISTRY --
CADMIUM RED, COBALT VIOLET.
SOME OF THEM SEEM TO HAVE NAMES
THAT HINT PERHAPS AT ALCHEMY --
MARS RED, VERMILION.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Philip Ball. Department of Chemistry, University of London, U.K. Chemistry and Colour in Art. University of Toronto. October 14, 2004."

Philip continues IF YOU LOOK
CLOSELY AT THE LABELS OF SOME OF
THESE PAINTS, YOU'LL FIND THAT
MANY OF THEM CONTAIN CHEMICALS
WITH COMPLICATED AND DAUNTING
NAMES SUCH AS QUINACRODONE AND
THALOCYANINE, AND A CHEMIST WILL
TELL YOU THAT THESE ARE PRODUCTS
OF THE MODERN CHEMICAL AGE, AND
SO THAT RAISES THE QUESTION
“WERE THEY AVAILABLE TO
KANDINSKY IN 1914?”
AND WHAT ABOUT
MONET OR TURNER OR REMBRANDT?
WHERE DID THEY GET THEIR COLOURS FROM?
I'M GOING TO LOOK TONIGHT AT HOW
ART GOT ITS COLOURS, AND IN
PARTICULAR, I THINK THAT RAISES
ANOTHER QUESTION THAT I'D LIKE
TO LOOK AT, WHICH IS HOW HAS THE
INVENTION OF NEW COLOUR AFFECTED
THE PATHS THAT ART HAS TAKEN.
IT MIGHT SEEM A LITTLE STRANGE
TO STUDY ART BY LOOKING AT ITS
MATERIALS, BUT THAT WOULDN'T
HAVE SEEMED STRANGE AT ALL TO
PAINTERS IN THE MIDDLE AGES OR
THE RENAISSANCE.
THEY WERE DEEPLY ENGAGED WITH
THEIR MATERIALS BECAUSE THEY
OFTEN HAD TO MAKE THEIR OWN
PAINTS FROM THE RAW MATERIALS.
AND SO THESE PAINTERS KNEW THAT
THE QUALITY OF THEIR ART
DEPENDED VITALLY ON THE QUALITY
OF THEIR MATERIALS.
NOW, THAT'S STILL TRUE TODAY,
BUT FEW CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS
HAVE A COMPARABLE RELATIONSHIP
WITH THE PHYSICAL AND CHEMICAL
CHARACTERISTICS OF THEIR MEDIUM.
I SUSPECT THAT THERE'S A
PERCEPTION ALMOST OF SOMETHING
VULGAR ABOUT THESE TANGIBLE
ASPECTS OF ART, AND THAT MEANS
NOT ONLY THAT SOME ARTISTS HAVE
UNDERTAKEN ILL-INFORMED AND
SOMETIMES DISASTROUS EXPERIMENTS
WITH PAINTS BUT ALSO THAT ART
ITSELF IS IN DANGER OF LOSING
TOUCH WITH ITS ROOTS AS A
PRACTICAL CRAFT.

Pictures show ancient cave paintings of horses and oxen.

Philip continues THE MOST ANCIENT ART THAT WE
KNOW OF, SUCH AS THAT THAT WAS
PAINTED 15 MILLENNIA AGO IN THE
CAVES OF LASCAUX, EMPLOYED
PIGMENTS THAT WERE DUG STRAIGHT
OUT OF THE EARTH.
THESE WERE GROUND-UP MINERALS
SUCH AS RED AND YELLOW OCHRE AND
CHALK, AND THESE SO-CALLED EARTH
COLOURS ARE GENERALLY RATHER DULL.
THE OCHRES ARE IRON-RICH
MINERALS SIMILAR TO RUST.
FOR BLACK, CAVE ARTISTS TENDED
TO USE CHARCOAL.
AND SO THE MOST COMMON COLOURS
WERE THOSE THAT NATURE OFFERED
IN GREATEST ABUNDANCE -- BLACK,
WHITE, YELLOW AND RED.
NOW, IN 1969, TWO
ANTHROPOLOGISTS NAMED BRENT
BERLIN AND PAUL KAY CLAIMED THAT
COLOUR WORDS IN ANY LANGUAGE
APPEAR IN ALWAYS THE SAME
SEQUENCE.
THAT'S TO SAY THERE ARE SOME
ABORIGINAL LANGUAGES THAT
DISTINGUISH ONLY TWO COLOURS
WHICH SEEM TO, AS FAR AS WE CAN
TRANSLATE THEM AT ALL, SEEM TO
CORRESPOND ALWAYS TO BLACK AND
WHITE OR TO LIGHT AND DARK.
OTHER LANGUAGES HAVE THREE
COLOURS -- BLACK, WHITE AND RED.
AND WHEN A FOURTH TERM IS ADDED
TO A LANGUAGE, A COLOUR TERM IS
ADDED TO THE LANGUAGE, IT'S
ALWAYS EITHER YELLOW OR GREEN,
FOLLOWED BY THE OTHER ONE OF
THOSE TWO.
SO THIS QUARTET OF BLACK, WHITE,
RED AND YELLOW CORRESPONDS TO A
KIND OF UNIVERSAL FOUR-COLOUR
SCHEME.
YOU'LL NEVER FIND LANGUAGES
WITH, SAY, TERMS FOR JUST
YELLOW, RED AND BLUE OR JUST RED
AND BLUE.
I DON'T THINK IT COULD BE A
COINCIDENCE THAT THESE FOUR
BASIC COLOURS ARE THE ONES THAT
NATURE OFFERS MOST READILY.
NOW, THE EGYPTIANS USED THESE
PIGMENTS, TOO, BUT THEY HAD A
BROADER PALETTE.
EGYPT IN THE THIRD MILLENNIUM
B.C. HAD A SURPRISINGLY
SOPHISTICATED CHEMICAL
TECHNOLOGY.
THIS WAS THE PRODUCT OF THE
CRAFTS THAT WERE CENTRAL BOTH TO
EVERYDAY AND TO RELIGIOUS LIFE.
IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE ARTISTS
WERE PRIESTS, AND ART WAS A
DEVOTIONAL PRACTICE.
ARTWORKS WERE AWARDED
SUPERNATURAL POWER THROUGH
RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES, AND SO THE
PRODUCTION OF PIGMENTS WAS SEEN
AS A VERY IMPORTANT, SOCIALLY
IMPORTANT, TASK.

A new picture shows an ancient Egyptian painting of a man harvesting crops as dozens of birds fly in the air.

Philip continues ONE OF THE MOST RENOWNED
PIGMENTS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD IS
EGYPTIAN BLUE, AND IT'S MADE BY
GRINDING UP A COPPER-CONTAINING
COMPOUND, CALCIUM COPPER
SILICATE, AND THIS IS A
SUBSTANCE THAT WAS MADE BY
MELTING TOGETHER SAND WITH
COPPER MINERALS AND CHALK.
NOW, IT WAS PROBABLY DISCOVERED
AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE
MANUFACTURE OF BLUE GLAZED
STONES, CALLED FAIENCE, WHICH
WERE FIRST MADE IN MESOPOTAMIA
IN AROUND 4,500 B.C.
FAIENCE WAS USED FOR DECORATIVE
PURPOSES, AND IT STIMULATED
EXPERIMENTS WITH MATERIALS AND
WITH THE DESIGN OF KILNS THAT
PROBABLY ALSO LED TO THE
DISCOVERY OF GLASS AND OF THE
SMELTING OF COPPER, THE
DISCOVERY THAT BEGAN THE BRONZE
AGE.
SO THIS BLUE PIGMENT PROBABLY
AROSE BY CHANCE AS A BY-PRODUCT
OF A TECHNOLOGY THAT WAS
DEVELOPED FOR MAKING SOMETHING
ELSE ENTIRELY.
AND THAT'S A COMMON PATTERN FOR
PIGMENT DISCOVERY WHICH WOULD
OCCUR RIGHT THROUGH UNTIL THE
20th CENTURY.
WITHOUT THE
SOCIAL DEMAND FOR SUBSTANCES
LIKE GLASS, SOAP, METALS, DYES
AND PLASTICS, IT'S UNLIKELY THAT
MANY OF THE TECHNOLOGIES FOR
PIGMENT MANUFACTURE WOULD HAVE
EVOLVED OR WOULD HAVE BEEN
ECONOMICALLY VIABLE.
SO THE ARTIST'S PALETTE IS AND
ALWAYS HAS BEEN PARTLY A
BY-PRODUCT OF INDUSTRIAL
TECHNOLOGY.
NOW, THE EGYPTIANS KNEW HOW TO USE SIMPLE
CHEMISTRY TO MAKE ARTIFICIAL
WHITE PIGMENTS AND YELLOWS AND
REDS AND GREENS, FOR EXAMPLE,
VERDIGRIS, WHICH WAS MADE BY
LETTING VINEGAR FUMES CORRODE
COPPER.
SO THEIR COLOUR SCHEME WAS
REALLY QUITE RICH.
THE ANCIENT GREEKS KNEW OF ALL
THESE PIGMENTS, BUT THEY DIDN'T
NECESSARILY USE THEM ALL.
SOME OF THE MOST RENOWNED
PAINTERS OF CLASSICAL GREECE --
THIS IS THE PERIOD FROM ABOUT
600 TO 400 B.C. -- SUCH AS
APELLES, THE COURT PAINTER OF
ALEXANDER THE GREAT,
DELIBERATELY CHOSE TO RESTRICT
THEIR PALETTE TO JUST FOUR
COLOURS, AND THESE ARE THE FOUR,
IF YOU LIKE, THE FOUR CLASSICAL
COLOURS THAT I MENTIONED
EARLIER -- BLACK, WHITE, RED AND YELLOW.

A picture shows an ancient mosaic in these tones depicting a chaotic battle scene with spearmen and horses.

Philip continues THIS IS A WALL MOSAIC IN
POMPEII, BUT IT'S A REPRODUCTION
OF A MUCH OLDER PAINTING THAT
WAS DONE BY A GREEK PAINTER IN
THE FOURTH CENTURY B.C., AND SO
IT GIVES YOU SOME IDEA OF THE
KIND OF MUTED PALETTE THAT THEY
TENDED TO USE.
IT'S NOT CLEAR WHY THEY CHOSE TO
RESTRICT THEIR PALETTE THIS WAY.
ONE IDEA IS THAT AS THE GREEK
PAINTERS MOVED BEYOND THE SORT
OF FLAT, TWO-DIMENSIONAL
PICTOGRAMS THAT THE EGYPTIANS
USED TO DEPICT THREE-DIMENSIONAL
SHADING, THEY FOUND THAT IT WAS
DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE A
HARMONIOUS BALANCE OF TONES WITH
TOO MANY COLOURS SO THAT, FOR
EXAMPLE, THE YELLOWS DON'T STAND
OUT MUCH MORE BRIGHTLY THAN THE
BLUES.
AND SO WHATEVER THE REASON FOR
RESTRICTING THEIR PALETTE THIS
WAY, IT BECAME --
IT CAME TO BE SEEN AS AN
AESTHETIC CHOICE.
IT WAS THE DIGNIFIED AND SOBER
WAY THAT ALL SERIOUS PAINTERS
PAINTED, AND THAT IDEA PERSISTED
IN THE ART OF IMPERIAL ROME.
PLINY, THE ROMAN WRITER IN THE
FIRST CENTURY A.D., CONDEMNED
ARTISTS WHO USED SO-CALLED
FLORID COLOURS SO THAT HE SAID
EVEN IF THEY'RE PAINTING IN REDS
AND YELLOWS, THESE OUGHT TO BE
THE RELATIVELY DULL EARTH
COLOURS RATHER THAN THE BRIGHTER
PIGMENTS LIKE CINNABAR, WHICH
EVER SINCE ALEXANDER'S CONQUESTS
COULD BE IMPORTED FROM THE EAST.
PLINY FEARED THAT THE
SENSUOUSNESS OF THESE ORIENTAL
COLOURS WOULD CORRUPT THE
SUPPOSED PURITY OF ARTISTIC
EXPRESSION THAT WAS DEVELOPED IN
CLASSICAL GREECE, BUT
UNFORTUNATELY FOR PLINY, PUBLIC
TASTE WAS MORE VULGAR THAN THAT.
IT DELIGHTED IN BRIGHT COLOURS.

A new picture shows an ancient painting in bright tones of red that depicts naked women bathing and drying themselves.

Philip continues THIS IS A MURAL FROM POMPEII,
AND YOU CAN SEE JUST HOW BRIGHT
SOME OF THESE COLOURS WERE IN
ROME.
UNFORTUNATELY, MANY OF THE MURAL
TECHNIQUES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD
DON'T PRESERVE THESE COLOURS
WELL.
ONCE THEY'RE EXPOSED TO SUN AND
AIR, THE PAINTS TEND TO FLAKE
OFF AND DISCOLOUR, AND SO THEY
TENDED TO LEAVE THE BUILDINGS
AND STATUES BARE OF THEIR
ORIGINAL COLOURS, AND THAT MADE
THE CLASSICAL WORLD SEEM NOW
MUCH MORE LIKE A --
LIKE MUCH MORE OF A DRAB, PALE
PLACE THAN IT REALLY WAS.
WELL, CHEMICAL TECHNOLOGY
POSITIVELY THRIVED IN THE EIGHTH
AND NINTH CENTURIES, NOT IN THE
CHRISTIAN WEST BUT IN THE
ISLAMIC MIDDLE EAST, WHERE
ARABIC SCHOLARS MIXED GREEK
PHILOSOPHY WITH THE PRACTICAL
SKILLS THAT FLOURISHED IN
ALEXANDRIAN EGYPT, AND THESE
THINGS WERE BLENDED IN THE ART
OF ALCHEMY.
EVEN TODAY, ALCHEMY, I THINK, IS
WIDELY MISUNDERSTOOD.
THE POPULAR IMAGE IS OF CRAZY
OLD MEN BOILING UP POTIONS TO
TURN LEAD INTO GOLD OR
CHARLATANS GETTING RICH BY
PERSUADING GULLIBLE KINGS THAT
THEY CAN DO THIS.
ALTERNATIVELY, IT'S BECOME
POPULAR TO SEE IT AS PURELY AN
ALLEGORY FOR THE ULTIMATE GOAL
OF SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION.
NOW, ALCHEMY HAD BOTH OF THESE
ASPECTS, BUT I THINK IT'S
GENERALLY MORE APPROPRIATE TO
REGARD IT AS A KIND OF
PRE-SCIENTIFIC CHEMICAL
TECHNOLOGY.
THE ITALIAN CRAFTSMAN CENNINI
CENNINO, WROTE A CRAFTSMAN'S
MANUAL AROUND 1390 IN WHICH HE
DESCRIBED MANY OF THE PIGMENTS
THAT WERE THEN AVAILABLE AND HOW
THEY MIGHT BE OBTAINED AND HOW
THEY SHOULD BE USED, AND HE
MENTIONS ALCHEMY FREQUENTLY, BUT
NOT IN THE SENSE OF IT BEING
SOME ESOTERIC OR MYSTICAL ART.
INSTEAD IT'S CLEAR THAT HE
REGARDS IT SIMPLY AS A
CONVENIENT MANUFACTURING METHOD
FOR HIS COLOURS.

He flips through the pages of a thick book.
(Pages rustling)

Philip says WELL, IT'S NO
COINCIDENCE THAT THE ALCHEMISTS
WERE MAKING COLOURS FOR ARTISTS
BECAUSE COLOUR IS CENTRAL TO
ALCHEMY.
TO MAKE THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE,
THE SUBSTANCE THAT COULD
ALLEGEDLY TRANSFORM BASE METALS
TO GOLD, ONE HAS TO CONDUCT
CHEMICAL REACTIONS, IT WAS
THOUGHT, THAT WERE GOING TO TAKE
THE RAW MATERIALS THROUGH A
SPECIFIED SEQUENCE OF COLOUR
CHANGES, SO IT'S NOT SURPRISING
THAT ALCHEMISTS TENDED TO FOCUS
THEIR ATTENTION ON THE
SUBSTANCES THAT OFFERED THE
WIDEST RANGE OF DIFFERENT
COLOURS, AND IT TURNED OUT THAT
MANY OF THESE SAME MATERIALS
WERE BEING USED BY ARTISTS AS
PIGMENTS.
TAKE LEAD, FOR EXAMPLE.
IT WAS KNOWN SINCE ANCIENT TIMES
THAT EXPOSING LEAD TO THE FUMES
OF VINEGAR AND ANIMAL DUNG
TURNED IT WHITE, OWING TO THE
FORMATION OF THE CHEMICAL
LEAD CARBONATE, AND THIS WAS
KNOWN AS WHITE LEAD, AND IT WAS
THE PAINTER'S FINEST WHITE
PIGMENT RIGHT UP UNTIL THE
19th CENTURY.
NOW, IF YOU ROAST WHITE LEAD
CAREFULLY IN AIR, YOU CAN
CONVERT IT TO LEAD TETROXIDE,
WHICH IS RED, AND THIS PIGMENT,
CALLED “RED LEAD,” WAS USED IN
THE CLASSICAL WORLD SINCE AT
LEAST THE SECOND CENTURY A.D.
CENNINO CENNINI SAYS THAT IT'S
MANUFACTURED BY ALCHEMY.
IN MEDIEVAL LATIN, THIS RED LEAD
WAS CALLED MINIUM, AND ITS
EXTENSIVE USE IN MEDIEVAL
ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPTS GIVES US
THE WORD “MINIATURE.”
SO IT'S PURELY COINCIDENTAL THAT
THESE WORKS HAPPENED TO BE
SMALL.
“MINIATURE” DOESN'T MEAN THAT
THE WORKS ARE SMALL.
IT MEANS LITERALLY THAT THEY'RE
PAINTED IN MINIUM, IN RED LEAD.
WELL, IF YOU ROAST RED LEAD A
LITTLE MORE, YOU CAN CREATE A
YELLOW MATERIAL, LEAD MONOXIDE
OR LITHARGE AS IT WAS CALLED,
AND THIS WAS USED IN THE
MIDDLE AGES AS A PIGMENT UNDER
THE NAME MASSICOT.
NOW, TO US THERE'S NOTHING
EXTRAORDINARY ABOUT THESE
REACTIONS OF LEAD WITH VARIOUS
GASES, BUT TO ALCHEMISTS, THEY'D
HAVE BEEN SEEN AS EVIDENCE OF
SOME FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE THAT WAS
SOMEHOW PURIFYING THE LEAD,
BRINGING IT CLOSER TO THE COLOUR
OF GOLD.
BUT THE FINEST
RED PIGMENT OF THE MIDDLE AGES
WAS TO THE ALCHEMISTS PERHAPS
THE MOST FASCINATING SUBSTANCE
OF ALL.
THE ISLAMIC ALCHEMISTS BEGAN THE
NOTION THAT ALL METALS ARE
COMPOSED OF TWO BASIC SUBSTANCES
OR “PRINCIPLES,” AS THEY CALLED
THEM -- SULPHUR AND MERCURY.
IF YOU MIX THESE
TWO RAW ELEMENTS TOGETHER AND
HEAT THEM, SOMETHING MIRACULOUS
SEEMS TO HAPPEN.
THE DIRTY YELLOW SULPHUR AND THE
SILVERY LIQUID MERCURY COMBINE
TO FORM A HARD BLACKISH
MATERIAL, MERCURY SULFIDE, WHICH
TURNS BRIGHT RED WHEN IT'S
FINELY GROUND, AND THIS IS WHAT
PAINTERS KNEW AS VERMILION.
THE 11th CENTURY BENEDICTINE
MONK THEOPHILIS DESCRIBES THE
SYNTHESIS OF VERMILION IN A
CRAFTSMAN'S MANUAL OF HIS OWN
THAT HE WROTE, AND THIS IS WHAT
HE SAYS: “TAKE SULPHUR, BREAK IT
UP ON A DRY STONE AND ADD TO IT
TWO EQUAL PARTS OF MERCURY.
WEIGH OUT ON THE SCALES.
WHEN YOU HAVE MIXED THEM
CAREFULLY, PUT THEM INTO A GLASS
JAR, COVER IT ALL OVER WITH
CLAY, BLOCK UP THE MOUTH SO THAT
NO FUMES CAN ESCAPE, AND PUT IT
NEAR THE FIRE TO DRY.
THEN BURY IT IN BLAZING COALS,
AND AS SOON AS IT BEGINS TO GET
HOT, YOU WILL HEAR A CRASHING
NOISE INSIDE AS THE MERCURY
UNITES WITH THE BLAZING SULPHUR.
WHEN THE NOISE STOPS,
IMMEDIATELY REMOVE THE JAR, OPEN
IT AND TAKE OUT THE PIGMENT.”
WELL, THIS IS A VERY
STRAIGHTFORWARD DESCRIPTION OF
THE PROCESS.
I THINK IT'S SURELY AS DETAILED
AS ANY MODERN DESCRIPTION OF A
STANDARD LABORATORY SYNTHESIS,
ALTHOUGH IN FACT THERE ARE
TELLTALE SIGNS WITHIN THIS
DESCRIPTION THAT IT HAD AN
ALCHEMICAL ORIGIN.
WELL, CENNINO SIMPLY ADVISES THE
PAINTERS.
HE DOESN'T TELL THEM TO GO
THROUGH ALL THIS PROCESS.
HE SAYS, “JUST GO TO THE
ALCHEMISTS AND BUY IT, BUT DON'T
BUY IT READY-GROUND,” BECAUSE
SOME OF THEM HAD THE TENDENCY TO
ADULTERATE VERMILION BY MIXING
IT WITH BRICK DUST TO MAKE IT GO
FURTHER.
THE ART HISTORIAN DANIEL
THOMPSON HAS CLAIMED THAT THE
INVENTION OF VERMILION WAS THE
CENTRAL INNOVATION OF MEDIEVAL ART.
HE SAID, “NO OTHER SCIENTIFIC
INVENTION HAS HAD SO GREAT AND
LASTING AN EFFECT UPON PAINTING
PRACTICE AS THE INVENTION OF
THIS COLOUR.
GIVEN ABUNDANT VERMILION, THE
STANDARD OF INTENSITY IN THE
PAINTER'S PALETTE AUTOMATICALLY
RISES.
EQUALLY BRILLIANT BLUES AND
GREENS AND YELLOWS WERE REQUIRED
TO GO WITH IT.
IF THE MIDDLE AGES HAD NOT HAD
THIS BRILLIANT RED, THEY COULD
HARDLY HAVE DEVELOPED THE
STANDARDS OF COLOURING WHICH
THEY UPHELD, AND THERE WOULD'VE
BEEN LESS USE FOR THE INVENTIONS
OF THE OTHER BRILLIANT COLOURS
WHICH CAME ON THE SCENE IN AND
AFTER THE 12th CENTURY.”
AND WE CAN SEE HOW MUCH THESE
ARTISTS LOVED VERMILION BY THE
WAY THAT THEY WOULD APPLY IT IN
THESE GREAT SWATHS.

A new picture shows a detailed and realistic painting of two bearded men clad in bright vermillion and bright pink robes, respectively.

Philip continues THIS IS ACTUALLY A PAINTING
THAT'S A LITTLE LATER THAN THE
MIDDLE AGES.
IT'S THE EARLY RENAISSANCE.
IT'S PAINTED IN THE 1420s BY
MASACCIO AND MASOLINO.
AND THE CHAP ON THE LEFT HERE IS
SAINT JEROME, AND SAINT JEROME
WAS ALWAYS DEPICTED IN THIS WAY
IN THESE RED ROBES, AND THAT'S
PAINTED IN ESSENTIALLY PURE
VERMILION.
NOW, MEDIEVAL ART TENDS TO LOOK
TO US RATHER ODD TODAY.
IT'S SORT OF CARTOONLIKE.
THERE'S NO PERSPECTIVE.
THERE'S NO SHADING.
AND IT'S IMPORTANT TO RECOGNIZE
THAT THE MEDIEVAL ARTIST WASN'T
TRYING TO PAINT REALISTICALLY.
THE SUBJECTS THAT THEY DEPICTED
WERE ALMOST ALWAYS RELIGIOUS,
AND THE ARTISTS WERE GENERALLY
MONKS, AND THEY BELIEVED, LIKE
THE EGYPTIANS, THAT PAINTINGS
HAD A SYMBOLIC RELIGIOUS POWER
WHICH WAS ENHANCED IF ONE USED
THE FINEST MATERIALS AND
DISPLAYED THEM UNMIXED.
SO THAT'S WHY THEY'D HAVE THESE
GREAT BLOCKS OF RICH PIGMENT.
SO THESE MEDIEVAL WORKS ARE RICH
IN VERMILION AND IN GOLD LEAF
AND THEN IN THE LATER MIDDLE
AGES IN STILL MORE WONDROUS
PIGMENT, ULTRAMARINE.
THERE'S NEVER BEEN A BLUE LIKE
ULTRAMARINE, AND I DON'T THINK
THERE EVER WILL BE.
IN FACT, CENNINO SAYS,
“ULTRAMARINE BLUE IS A COLOUR
ILLUSTRIOUS, BEAUTIFUL AND MOST
PERFECT, BEYOND ALL OTHER
COLOURS.
ONE COULD NOT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT
IT OR DO ANYTHING WITH IT THAT
ITS QUALITY WOULD NOT STILL
SURPASS.”
NOW, AS ITS NAME IMPLIES,
ULTRAMARINE CAME FROM OVER THE
SEAS BECAUSE THE MINERAL FROM
WHICH IT'S MADE WASN'T KNOWN
ANYWHERE IN THE WEST.
ULTRAMARINE IS PREPARED FROM
LAPIS LAZULI

A picture shows a chunk of lapis lazuli.

Philip continues HERE IT IS --
THIS GORGEOUS BLUE STONE.
AND FOR CENTURIES, THE ONLY
PLACE THAT YOU COULD GET HOLD OF
THIS STONE WAS FROM MINES IN
REMOTE AFGHANISTAN.
SO ALL OF EUROPE DEPENDED ON
THESE AFGHAN MINES FOR THEIR
MOST PRECIOUS PIGMENT, AND IT
OFTEN COST THEM MORE THAN ITS
WEIGHT IN GOLD.
BUT ULTRAMARINE WAS PRECIOUS NOT
JUST BECAUSE IT WAS A RARE
IMPORT BUT BECAUSE IT WAS
EXTREMELY LABORIOUS TO MAKE.
MOST PIGMENTS THAT ARE MADE FROM
MINERALS ARE MADE SIMPLY BY
GRINDING THE MINERAL UP.
THAT WAS HOW YOU MADE, FOR
EXAMPLE, GREEN FROM THE COPPER
ORE MALACHITE.
BUT IF YOU GRIND UP LAPIS
LAZULI, IT LOOKS GREAT HERE, BUT
IT TURNS A DISAPPOINTING GRAYISH
COLOUR, AND THAT'S BECAUSE OF
THE IMPURITIES THAT IT CONTAINS,
AND SO THESE IMPURITIES HAVE TO
BE SEPARATED OUT, AND THAT'S
DONE BY KNEADING, MIXING THE
POWDERED MINERAL WITH WAX AND
KNEADING IT IN WATER AGAIN AND
AGAIN AND AGAIN, AND THE BLUE
ELEMENT GRADUALLY FLESHES OUT
FROM THIS MATERIAL, AND THIS HAS
TO BE DONE REPEATEDLY.
SO IT WAS AN INCREDIBLY
EXPENSIVE AND ILLUSTRIOUS
MATERIAL.
IN MOST ALTAR PIECES OF THE
MIDDLE AGES, THE VIRGIN MARY IS
SHOWN IN BLUE ROBES.

A new picture shows a wooden triptych that displays two images of saints on either side and the Virgin Mary surrounded by angels in the middle, all against a golden background.

Philip continues THIS IS AN EXAMPLE BY DUCCIO IN
THE 14th CENTURY.
AND VARIOUS ART THEORISTS EVEN
INTO MODERN TIMES HAVE ATTEMPTED
TO EXPLAIN THE SYMBOLIC
SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS BLUE.
THEY'VE SAID THAT IT SHOWS, IT
CONVEYS HUMILITY OR VIRTUE OR
WHATEVER, BUT THE MAIN REASON
FOR THIS CHOICE OF COLOUR IS
THAT THE ARTIST WOULD NATURALLY
HAVE LAVISHED THE MOST PRECIOUS
PIGMENT ON THE MOST HOLY ASPECT
OF THE PAINTING.
THAT WOULD'VE BEEN THE WAY TO
MAKE THE IMAGE BEST SERVE THE
GREATER GLORY OF GOD.
SO YOU CAN SEE ART BECOMES
HARDER TO INTERPRET IF YOU
IGNORE ITS MATERIALS.
SO ULTRAMARINE,
VERMILION AND GOLD LEAF, THESE
WERE REALLY THE PRIMARY BLUE,
RED AND YELLOW OF THE MIDDLE
AGES, THE MOST PRECIOUS COLOURS
THAT A PAINTER COULD ACQUIRE,
AND SOME ALTAR PIECES SEEMED TO
USE LITTLE ELSE.
BUT BY THE
15th CENTURY, AS WE APPROACHED
THE PERIOD OF THE HIGH
RENAISSANCE, THINGS WERE
DIFFERENT, AND YOU CAN SEE THAT HERE.

A detailed oil painting appears that depicts a daytime scene of gods and men outdoors, surrounded by a few animals.

Philip continues THIS IS TITIAN'S “BACCHUS AND ARIADNE.”
IT WAS PAINTED IN 1523, AND I
THINK IT'S ONE OF THE MOST
RADIANT IMAGES IN WESTERN ART,
AND IT SHOWS WHY TITIAN IS
CONSIDERED TO BE ONE OF THE
FINEST COLOURISTS OF ALL TIME.
AND YOU CAN SEE AT ONCE THAT
THIS IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
TYPE OF PAINTING FROM THOSE OF
EARLIER TIMES.
THERE ARE VARIOUS REASONS FOR
THIS.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE SEE PEOPLE
AND PLACES DEPICTED
REALISTICALLY IF YOU LIKE, WHICH
IS TO SAY IN AN ATTEMPT TO SHOW
US HOW THEY WOULD APPEAR IF WE
WERE A REAL OBSERVER IN THIS
SCENE.
SO LIGHT AND SHADE, PERSPECTIVE,
PROPORTION, ANATOMY, ALL OF
THESE ARE ACCURATELY OBSERVED,
AND THIS IS THE KEY FEATURE OF
RENAISSANCE HUMANISM, WHICH
PLACED ACTUAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE
AS THE CENTRAL CONCERN OF
ARTISTS AND WRITERS SO THAT IT
WAS NO LONGER SUFFICIENT JUST TO
PRODUCE THE SORT OF STYLIZED
ICONIC WORKS OF ART THAT THE
MIDDLE AGES GAVE US.
RENAISSANCE ARTISTS PUT THE
VIEWER RIGHT INTO THE PICTURE.
AND THIS CHANGE MEANT THAT THE
MATERIALS OF THE PAINTER NO
LONGER HAD THE SYMBOLIC VALUES
OF THE MIDDLE AGES.
ULTRAMARINE IS NOW PRIZED
BECAUSE IT'S A BEAUTIFUL AND
PLEASING COLOUR AND BECAUSE IT
SHOWED OFF THE WEALTH OF THE
PATRON WHO WAS PAYING FOR THIS
THING, NOT BECAUSE ITS EXPENSE
MADE IT A DEVOTIONAL OFFERING TO
GOD.
GOLD LEAF GRADUALLY DISAPPEARS
FROM USE DURING THE 15th CENTURY
BECAUSE NO MATTER HOW COSTLY IT
WAS, THAT DIDN'T REALLY MATTER
IF IT DIDN'T PRODUCE A REALISTIC
EFFECT, SO PAINTERS STARTED
INSTEAD TO MIMIC GOLD, USING
YELLOW, WHITE AND BROWN
PIGMENTS.
AND FURTHERMORE, TITIAN'S PAINTS
ARE TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM THOSE
OF MEDIEVAL ARTISTS.
PIGMENTS HAVE TO BE MIXED WITH
SOME FLUID MEDIUM TO MAKE A
PAINT, AND IN THE MIDDLE AGES,
THAT MEDIUM WAS GENERALLY
EGG YOLK THAT BOUND THE PIGMENT
PARTICLES TOGETHER, BUT TITIAN
AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES MIXED
THEIR COLOURS WITH OILS.
OIL PAINTING WAS PERFECTED IN
NORTHERN EUROPE IN THE EARLY
15th CENTURY BY THE FLEMISH
ARTIST JAN VAN EYCK, AND IT WAS
GRADUALLY ADOPTED BY THE
ITALIANS.
IN THE SO-CALLED EGG TEMPERA
METHOD, THE PAINTS DRY ALMOST
INSTANTLY, BUT OILS ARE MUCH
SLOWER IN DRYING, AND THIS MEANT
THAT THE COLOURS COULD BE
BLENDED AND MIXED, AND THAT
PERMITS THE SORT OF SOFT SHADOWS
AND SUBTLE SHADING THAT WE SEE
IN RENAISSANCE ART.
BUT THE USE OF OILS ALSO BROUGHT
ABOUT SOME CHANGES IN PIGMENT
USE BECAUSE SOME COLOURS LOOK
QUITE DIFFERENT WHEN THEY'RE
BOUND IN OIL TO WHEN THEY'RE
BOUND IN WATER OR EGG YOLK.
IN PARTICULAR, BOTH ULTRAMARINE
AND VERMILION ARE MORE
TRANSPARENT AND LESS BRILLIANT
IN OIL, AND THIS FORCED THE
PAINTERS TO ADULTERATE
ULTRAMARINE BY MIXING IT WITH A
LITTLE LEAD WHITE TO KEEP IT
STRONG AND OPAQUE, AND HAVING TO
DO THAT MEANT THAT IT ERODED THE
MYSTIQUE THAT THIS PIGMENT HAD,
AND AS A RESULT, ARTISTS BEGAN
TO FEEL MORE FREE TO USE A WIDER
RANGE OF LIGHTER BLUES IN THEIR
WORKS.
THE ART HISTORIAN PAUL HILLS HAS
SAID THAT BLUE BY THE
15th CENTURY WAS MOVING AWAY
FROM ITS ASSOCIATION WITH STARRY
NIGHT, THE VAULT OF THE HEAVENS,
TO THE CHANGEFUL SKY OF DAY.
THIS THEN WAS A CHANGE IN COLOUR
USE THAT WAS INSTIGATED BY THE
PHYSICAL AND CHEMICAL PROPERTIES
OF THE MATERIALS.
BUT THERE WERE OTHER REASONS
ALSO WHY TITIAN AND HIS
CONTEMPORARIES HAD A WIDER RANGE
OF COLOURS AVAILABLE THAN MOST
MEDIEVAL ARTISTS.
TITIAN LIVED AND WORKED IN
VENICE, WHICH ALONG WITH
FLORENCE WAS THE ARTISTIC
CAPITAL OF RENAISSANCE ITALY.
VENICE WAS THE MAJOR PORT WHERE
MANY OF THE RARE SPICES AND
FOODS AND TEXTILES AND PIGMENTS
CAME FROM THE EAST, AND SO THE
VENETIAN ARTISTS HAD THE FIRST
PICK OF THESE COLOURS, AND THEY
MADE ABUNDANT USE OF MATERIALS
LIKE ULTRAMARINE AND THE BRIGHT
YELLOW CALLED ORPIMENT THAT CAME
FROM THE ARABIC NATIONS, AND
THIS MADE VENETIAN ART EXTREMELY
COLOURFUL.
IN FLORENCE, ON THE OTHER HAND,
WHERE LEONARDO DA VINCI AND
MICHELANGELO WORKED, THERE WAS A
MUCH GREATER EMPHASIS ON DRAWING
SKILLS, ON LINE, THAN ON COLOUR.
AND SO THE ART WORLD OF THE
RENAISSANCE INITIATED A
LONG-LASTING DEBATE ABOUT THE
RELATIVE MERITS OF COLOUR AND OF
LINE OR DRAWING IN ART WHICH
EVENTUALLY RESOLVED ITSELF IN
THE 17th CENTURY IN FAVOUR OF
DRAWING AS THE ARTIST'S MOST
IMPORTANT SKILL, AND THIS
LITERALLY CAST A SHADOW OVER THE
USE OF COLOUR IN ART UNTIL THE
LATE 19th CENTURY.
BUT DURING --
OKAY, HERE WE ARE DURING THE
15th AND 16th CENTURY.
AT THAT TIME, VENETIAN ART WAS
FULL OF BRIGHT COLOUR.
IN “BACCHUS AND ARIADNE,” TITIAN
USES JUST ABOUT EVERY ONE OF THE
PIGMENTS THAT WAS THEN
AVAILABLE, AND IN DOING SO, HE
PROVIDES US WITH A KIND OF A MAP
OF THE STATE OF 16th CENTURY CHEMISTRY.

A close-up of the same painting reveals the intensity of the blue sky in it.

Philip continues THE BRILLIANT BLUE SKY HERE IS
ULTRAMARINE, AND SO IS ARIADNE'S ROBE.
ARIADNE IS ON THE FAR LEFT.
BUT THE SEA IN THE BACKGROUND --
YOU MIGHT JUST BE ABLE TO SEE
IT.
IT HAS A SLIGHT GREENISH TINGE.
THAT'S PAINTED NOT IN
ULTRAMARINE BUT IN A MINERAL
CALLED AZURITE.
THIS WAS A COPPER MINERAL THAT
WAS KNOWN SINCE ANCIENT TIMES,
AND IT'S SLIGHTLY CHEAPER THAN
ULTRAMARINE BECAUSE IT WAS --
THERE WERE DEPOSITS OF THIS
MINERAL IN EUROPE, IN FRANCE AND
HUNGRY AND GERMANY.
THERE'S VERMILION HERE, TOO.
ARIADNE'S RED SCARF IS PAINTED
IN VERMILION.
BUT THERE'S ALSO ANOTHER KIND OF
RED PIGMENT, RED LAKE, AND THIS
IS MADE FROM RED DYES WHICH ARE
ORGANIC MATERIALS.
THEY'RE EXTRACTED FROM NATURAL, FROM
LIVING SYSTEMS, FROM PLANTS AND
FROM ANIMALS.
FOR EXAMPLE, SOME RED DYES WERE
EXTRACTED FROM BRAZIL WOOD AND
THE ROOT OF THE MADDER PLANT.
OTHERS CAME FROM ANIMALS.
COCHINEAL WAS MADE IN THE
16th CENTURY FROM GROUND-UP,
DRIED BEETLES, AND THERE WAS A
DYE CALLED LAC OR LACQUER, FROM
WHICH “LAKE” GETS ITS NAME,
WHICH WAS A RESIN THAT WAS
SECRETED BY CERTAIN TREE-
DWELLING INSECTS THAT DWELT IN
ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST.
AND THESE DYES WERE CONVERTED TO
LAKE PIGMENTS BY DISSOLVING THE
COLOURS IN WATER AND THEN FIXING
THEM ONTO THE SURFACE OF A WHITE
POWDER, AND THIS WAS QUITE A
COMPLICATED CHEMICAL PROCESS
WHICH WASN'T PERFECTED UNTIL THE
LATE MIDDLE AGES.
SO THESE RED LAKES ARE DARKER
AND RICHER THAN VERMILION.
THERE WAS ONE COMMON RED LAKE
THAT WAS KNOWN AS KERMES, AND
THIS IS THE ROOT OF OUR WORD
“CRIMSON.”
THESE LAKES ARE ALSO FAIRLY
TRANSLUCENT WHEN THEY'RE USED IN
OILS, AND RENAISSANCE PAINTERS
USED TO USE THEM AS TRANSLUCENT
GLAZES, SO THEY WOULD USE THEM
TO GIVE THESE RICH FLESH TONES
AND TO MAKE PURPLES BY GLAZING
THESE SORT OF CRIMSONS OVER BLUE.
THE YELLOWS IN THE RENAISSANCE
WERE TYPICALLY COMPOUNDS OF
LEAD, TIN AND ANTIMONY, AND THE
EGYPTIANS KNEW HOW TO MAKE
THOSE, BUT IN “BACCHUS AND
ARIADNE,” THERE'S ALSO A BRIGHT
RICH GOLDEN YELLOW PIGMENT.
THIS IS THE ONE THAT I MENTIONED
EARLIER, ORPIMENT, WHICH IS
ARSENIC SULFIDE, AND MOST
PAINTERS TENDED TO GET THEIR
ORPIMENT FROM ALCHEMISTS.
AGAIN, THIS WAS A MATERIAL THAT
ALCHEMY FOUND OUT HOW TO MAKE.
IT'S HIGHLY POISONOUS.
IT'S AN ARSENIC COMPOUND, AND
CENNINO WARNED PEOPLE TO “BEWARE
OF SOILING YOUR MOUTH WITH IT,
LEST YOU SUFFER PERSONAL INJURY.”

(Quiet audience laughter)

Philip continues ALSO IN THIS
PICTURE IS AN EVEN RARER PIGMENT.
THE CYMBAL-PLAYER RIGHT IN THE
MIDDLE HERE YOU CAN SEE WITH
ORANGE ROBES, THIS ORANGE IS
REALGAR, WHICH IS ANOTHER FORM
OF ARSENIC SULFIDE, ANOTHER
ALCHEMICAL COMPOUND, AND THIS
WAS ALSO HIGHLY POISONOUS, AND
AGAIN IT WAS NOT VERY POPULAR,
PARTLY FOR THAT REASON.
CENNINO WARNS PAINTERS WHO USE
IT TO “LOOK OUT FOR YOURSELF.”

(Quiet audience laughter)

Philip says WELL, SOMETHING
HAPPENED TO COLOUR DURING THE
17th AND 18th CENTURIES.
RUBENS OFTEN PAINTED AS BRIGHTLY
AS TITIAN, BUT WE REMEMBER THIS
PERIOD MOSTLY FOR THE SUBDUED
PALETTES OF REMBRANDT, VAN DYKE
AND POUSSIN.
SO EUROPEAN ART WENT THROUGH A
PERIOD OF SUBTLE, SUBDUED
COLOUR, AND THERE WASN'T MUCH
INNOVATION IN PIGMENT
MANUFACTURE DURING THAT TIME,
BUT IT'S INTERESTING THAT
SEVERAL OF THE NEW PIGMENTS THAT
DID APPEAR WERE IN THE AUTUMNAL
COLOURS THAT WE ASSOCIATE WITH
REMBRANDT.
THE PREVAILING ATTITUDE OF THE
CONNOISSEURS IN THE EARLY
19th CENTURY WAS SUMMED UP BY
SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT, WHO WAS AN
ARTIST AND THE PATRON OF
JOHN CONSTABLE, AND HE SAID, “A
GOOD PICTURE, LIKE A GOOD
FIDDLE, SHOULD BE BROWN.”

[Audience laughter]

Philip says AND HERE IS
CONSTABLE BEING DUTIFULLY BROWN.
I SHOULD SAY IN CONSTABLE'S
DEFENCE THAT HE'S SAID TO HAVE
PROTESTED AT THIS IDEA OF
BEAUMONT'S BY TAKING A VIOLIN
AND PLACING IT ON GRASS TO SHOW
JUST HOW FAR THE COLOUR OF GRASS
WAS FROM THE COLOUR OF THE
VIOLIN, BUT YOU CAN SEE
NEVERTHELESS THAT HE OBSERVED
THIS CONVENTION OF TONING DOWN
HIS COLOURS.

A new picture shows a painting depicting a countryside scene in dim tones of yellow and brown.

Philip continues IN FACT, HE WAS CONSIDERED TO BE
SOMETHING OF AN INNOVATOR IN
COLOUR WITH AN UNUSUALLY BRIGHT
PALETTE, AND SO THAT TELLS US
SOMETHING ABOUT HOW TRULY MURKY
COLOUR HAS BECOME BY THE EARLY
19th CENTURY.
WELL, LET'S HAVE A LOOK AT SOME
OF THESE AUTUMNAL COLOURS.
FOR BAROQUE PAINTERS, WHO LIKED
THEIR WORKS DARK AND GOLDEN,
THERE WAS A SUBSTANCE CALLED
CASSEL EARTH, WHICH WAS A PEATY
SUBSTANCE WITH A WARM BROWN
COLOUR.
VAN DYKE LIKED IT SO MUCH THAT
IT LATER BECAME KNOWN, AND
YOU'LL BUY IT TODAY IN SHOPS, AS
“VAN DYKE BROWN.”
AND THEN THERE WAS BITUMEN,
WHICH WAS LITERALLY WHAT IT
SOUNDS LIKE.
IT WAS A TARRY SUBSTANCE.
IT WAS AN APPALLING PIGMENT TO
USE.
THEY USED IT A LOT FOR DEEP
SHADOWS, BUT IT NEVER DRIED, AND
IT ENDED UP RUINING MANY 18th
AND 19th CENTURY PAINTINGS.
AND THEN THERE WAS A SUBSTANCE
CALLED INDIAN YELLOW, AND THIS
WAS A MYSTERIOUS YELLOW
SUBSTANCE THAT WAS IMPORTED FROM
INDIA BY THE DUTCH ORIGINALLY IN
THE 17th CENTURY, AND REMBRANDT
USED IT A LOT.
NO ONE KNEW WHAT IT WAS MADE
FROM FOR A LONG TIME UNTIL IN
THE LATE 19th CENTURY IT WAS
DISCOVERED THAT IT WAS MADE FROM
THE URINE OF COWS FED
EXCLUSIVELY ON MANGO LEAVES.

[Audience laughter]

Philip says BUT IN THE LATE
18th CENTURY, A NEW RAINBOW
BEGAN TO SPREAD ACROSS THE
ARTIST'S PALETTE.
THIS WAS THE GOLDEN AGE OF
CHEMISTRY.
NEW ELEMENTS
WERE BEING DISCOVERED BY THE
HANDFUL, AND THE FRENCH CHEMIST
ANTOINE LAVOISIER WAS STARTING
TO MAKE SENSE OF THE CHEMICAL
TRANSFORMATIONS THAT OCCUR
THROUGH HIS DISCOVERY OF THE
ELEMENT OXYGEN.
NOW, THAT
DISCOVERY IS STILL SOMEWHAT
CONTENTIOUS.
SOME PEOPLE CLAIM THAT THE FIRST
PERSON TO IDENTIFY OXYGEN WAS
THE SWEDISH APOTHECARIST
CARL WILHELM SCHEELE, WHO WAS
ONE OF THE GREATEST EXPERIMENTAL
SCIENTISTS OF THAT TIME.
SCHEELE ALSO ISOLATED HYDROGEN
AND BARIUM AND CHLORINE, WHICH
WAS SOON USED AS A BLEACH IN THE
DYEING INDUSTRY.
AND IN 1775, SCHEELE DISCOVERED
A GREEN SUBSTANCE WHILE HE WAS
EXPERIMENTING ON ARSENIC
COMPOUNDS.
THIS WAS COPPER ARSENITE, WHICH
SOON BECAME USED AS A GREEN
PIGMENT CALLED SCHEELE'S GREEN,
AND IT WAS BRIGHTER THAN ANY OF
THE EARLIER PURE GREEN PIGMENTS.
BUT SCHEELE'S GREEN WAS ITSELF
SOON ECLIPSED BY THE DISCOVERY
IN 1814 OF A NEW, MORE
ATTRACTIVE ARSENIC-BASED PIGMENT
WHICH BECAME KNOWN IN ENGLAND AS
EMERALD GREEN.
UNFORTUNATELY THIS, ALSO BEING
AN ARSENIC COMPOUND, WAS ALSO
POISONOUS.
IF IT WAS EXPOSED TO DAMPNESS,
IT TENDED TO DECOMPOSE TO
RELEASE AN ARSENIC-CONTAINING
GAS.
BUT BECAUSE BOTH OF THESE
PIGMENTS WERE ACTUALLY QUITE
CHEAP TO MANUFACTURE, EMERALD
GREEN AND SCHEELE'S GREEN WERE
USED NOT ONLY AS ARTISTS'
PIGMENTS BUT AS HOUSEHOLD PAINTS
AND ON PATTERNED WALLPAPER, AND
THIS MADE DAMP ROOMS DEATH
TRAPS, AND IN THE 1860s, THERE
WERE FEARS RAISED IN ENGLAND
THAT YOUNG CHILDREN WERE BEING
KILLED BY THE DEADLY FUMES THAT
WERE EMANATING FROM THEIR
BEDROOM WALLS.
IT'S ALSO BELIEVED THAT
NAPOLEON'S DEATH IN EXILE ON
ST. HELENA WAS BROUGHT ON IN THE
SAME WAY.
PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT
INNOVATIONS IN ARTISTS' COLOURS
IN THE 19th CENTURY STEMMED FROM
THE DISCOVERY IN THE LATE
18th CENTURY OF A BRIGHT RED
MINERAL IN SIBERIA.

A picture shows a clump of grainy black mineral with lumps of a red fibrous mineral.

Philip continues THIS WAS CALLED CROCOLITE OR
SIBERIAN RED LEAD.
AND IN THE EARLY 19th CENTURY,
THE FRENCH CHEMIST NICOLAS-LOUIS
VAUQUELIN INVESTIGATED THIS
MATERIAL AND DISCOVERED THAT IT
CONTAINED A NEW METALLIC ELEMENT
WHOSE COMPOUNDS WERE BRIGHTLY
COLOURED, AND HE NAMED THE NEW
ELEMENT AFTER THIS PROPERTY.
HE NAMED IT AFTER THE GREEK WORD
FOR COLOUR.
IT'S WHAT WE NOW KNOW AS
CHROMIUM.
CROCOLITE IS A MINERAL FORM OF
THE COMPOUND LEAD CHROMATE, AND
WHEN VAUQUELIN MADE THIS SAME
COMPOUND, LEAD CHROMATE,
SYNTHETICALLY, HE FOUND THAT IT
HAD A BRIGHT YELLOW COLOUR, AND
THIS BECAME USED AS THE PIGMENT
CALLED CHROME YELLOW, NOT JUST,
AGAIN NOT JUST FOR ARTISTS'
PAINTS BUT ALSO FOR COMMERCIAL
ONES.
IT WAS WIDELY USED TO PAINT
COACHES, FOR EXAMPLE, WHICH
SEEMS TO KIND OF ANTICIPATE ITS
USE ON THE YELLOW TAXICABS IN
NEW YORK.
VAUQUELIN FOUND THAT HE COULD
ALSO MAKE A DIFFERENT FORM OF
LEAD CHROMATE THAT WAS ORANGE,
AND THIS WAS THE FIRST PURE
ORANGE PIGMENT THAT ARTISTS HAD
HAD SINCE POISONOUS REALGAR.
AND THEN CHROMIUM OXIDE WAS A
GREEN COLOUR, AND IF YOU MADE IT
IN A CERTAIN WAY SO THAT THERE
WAS SOME WATER INCORPORATED INTO
THE CRYSTALS, THIS MADE THE
GREEN EVEN MORE VIBRANT, AND
THIS GAVE RISE TO THE PIGMENT
CALLED VIRIDIAN.
AND THESE PIGMENTS, THESE NEW
PIGMENTS, JUST KEPT COMING.
IN 1817, A GERMAN CHEMIST CALLED
FRIEDRICH STROHMEYER DISCOVERED
A NEW ELEMENT CALLED CADMIUM,
AND HE FOUND THAT THIS METAL
COULD BE COMBINED WITH SULPHUR
TO MAKE BRIGHT YELLOW AND BRIGHT
ORANGE PIGMENTS.
THESE WERE CADMIUM YELLOW AND
CADMIUM ORANGE, AND THEN IN THE
EARLY 20th CENTURY, A DEEP RED
VERSION OF IT BECAME AVAILABLE,
TOO.
THIS CADMIUM RED BECAME VERY
POPULAR.
MATISSE WAS PARTICULARLY FOND OF
IT.
AND IN THE LATE 18th CENTURY,
THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT CONSIDERED
PIGMENT MANUFACTURE TO BE SO
COMMERCIALLY IMPORTANT THAT IT
APPOINTED SOME OF ITS LEADING
BLUE.
WHICH WAS ACTUALLY THE FIRST
EVER STABLE RELIABLE PURPLE
PIGMENT THAT ARTISTS HAD EVER
HAD.
A SKY-BLUE PIGMENT MADE FROM
COBALT WAS CALLED CERULEAN BLUE,
AND THIS WAS ONE OF THE
FAVOURITE COLOURS OF SOME OF THE
POST-IMPRESSIONIST PAINTERS.
BUT WHAT PAINTERS REALLY WANTED FOR THEIR
BLUE WAS JUST THEY WANTED
ULTRAMARINE, BUT THEY JUST
WANTED IT MORE CHEAPLY, AND SO
IN 1824, THE FRENCH SOCIETY FOR
THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF NATIONAL
INDUSTRY OFFERED A PRIZE FOR THE
FIRST PERSON WHO COULD FIND A
WAY TO SYNTHESIZE ULTRAMARINE.
NOW, ULTRAMARINE'S ACTUALLY A
VERY COMPLICATED COMPOUND TO
MAKE, BUT IN 1828, SO JUST FOUR
YEARS LATER, A FRENCHMAN NAMED
JEAN-BAPTISTE GUIMET CLAIMED THE
PRIZE, AND THAT'S WHY SYNTHETIC
ULTRAMARINE WAS SUBSEQUENTLY
WIDELY KNOWN AS FRENCH ULTRAMARINE.
SO THIS PIGMENT
MANUFACTURE WAS NOW A BIG
BUSINESS.
IT WASN'T ANY LONGER THIS
COTTAGE INDUSTRY THAT
APOTHECARISTS AND ALCHEMISTS
WOULD PERFORM, AND FACTORIES
WERE SET UP IN THE 19th CENTURY
TO MAKE AND TO GRIND PIGMENTS,
AND SOME OF THEM JUST SOLD THESE
PIGMENTS IN PURE FORM TO
ARTISTS' SUPPLIERS, WHO WOULD
THEN MIX THEM UP TO MAKE A PAINT
AND GIVE THEM TO THE PAINTERS.
BUT SOME PIGMENT MANUFACTURERS
SUCH AS REEVES AND WINDSOR AND
NEWTON IN ENGLAND PROVIDED
READY-MADE OIL PAINTS WHICH FROM
THE 1840s WERE SOLD IN
COLLAPSIBLE TIN TUBES.
EITHER WAY, THIS MEANT THAT THE
PAINTERS WERE BECOMING EVER LESS
FAMILIAR WITH WHAT IT WAS THAT
THEY WERE BUYING, AND THEY HAD
NO WAY OF ASSESSING THE QUALITY
OF THIS PROFUSION OF NEW PAINTS,
AND SO A NEW BREED OF
PROFESSIONAL BEGAN TO APPEAR
CALLED THE COLOUR MAN, WHO KNEW
ABOUT THE SKILLS OF THE PAINTER
BUT ALSO HAD SOME CHEMICAL
KNOWLEDGE SO THAT THEY COULD
TEST THE MATERIALS THAT WERE
BEING SUPPLIED TO ARTISTS.
AND IN ENGLAND, THE FOREMOST
COLOUR MAN OF THE 19th CENTURY
WAS GEORGE FIELD.
HE SUPPLIED COLOURS TO TURNER
AND TO THE PRE-RAPHAELITES.

A new picture shows an oil painting depicting a pale dead woman floating in a gentle stream, in daytime. The grass on the streambanks is bright green.

Philip continues THIS IS JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS'S “OPHELIA.”
SO IT'S ONE OF THE CLASSIC
PRE-RAPHAELITE PAINTINGS, AND I
THINK THE EXTRAORDINARY THING
ABOUT THIS IS THE GREENS IN
PARTICULAR.
IF WE JUST SKIP BACK TO --
THIS IS TURNER, OR THIS IS
CONSTABLE IN 1838, AND 15 YEARS
LATER, THAT'S MILLAIS.
THAT'S THE IMPACT OF THESE NEW
SYNTHETIC COLOURS.
IN FACT, THESE COLOURS, PEOPLE
HAD NEVER SEEN COLOURS THIS
VIBRANT BEFORE, AND SOME CRITICS
JUST COULDN'T --
THEY WERE JUST TOO MUCH FOR THE
CRITICS TO HANDLE.
SOMEONE ACCUSED THE
PRE-RAPHAELITES OF USING GREENS
THAT WERE “UNRIPE ENOUGH TO
CAUSE INDIGESTION.”
WOULD PERFORM, AND FACTORIES
WERE SET UP IN THE 19th CENTURY
TO MAKE AND TO GRIND PIGMENTS,
AND SOME OF THEM JUST SOLD THESE
PIGMENTS IN PURE FORM TO
ARTISTS' SUPPLIERS, WHO WOULD
THEN MIX THEM UP TO MAKE A PAINT
AND GIVE THEM TO THE PAINTERS.
BUT SOME PIGMENT MANUFACTURERS
SUCH AS REEVES AND WINDSOR AND
NEWTON IN ENGLAND PROVIDED
READY-MADE OIL PAINTS WHICH FROM
THE 1840s WERE SOLD IN
COLLAPSIBLE TIN TUBES.
EITHER WAY, THIS MEANT THAT THE
PAINTERS WERE BECOMING EVER LESS
FAMILIAR WITH WHAT IT WAS THAT
THEY WERE BUYING, AND THEY HAD
NO WAY OF ASSESSING THE QUALITY
OF THIS PROFUSION OF NEW PAINTS,
AND SO A NEW BREED OF
PROFESSIONAL BEGAN TO APPEAR
CALLED THE COLOUR MAN, WHO KNEW
ABOUT THE SKILLS OF THE PAINTER
BUT ALSO HAD SOME CHEMICAL
KNOWLEDGE SO THAT THEY COULD
TEST THE MATERIALS THAT WERE
BEING SUPPLIED TO ARTISTS.
AND IN ENGLAND, THE FOREMOST
COLOUR MAN OF THE 19th CENTURY
WAS GEORGE FIELD.
HE SUPPLIED COLOURS TO TURNER
AND TO THE PRE-RAPHAELITES.
THIS IS JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS'S
“OPHELIA.”
SO IT'S ONE OF THE CLASSIC
PRE-RAPHAELITE PAINTINGS, AND I
THINK THE EXTRAORDINARY THING
ABOUT THIS IS THE GREENS IN
PARTICULAR.
IF WE JUST SKIP BACK TO --
THIS IS TURNER, OR THIS IS
CONSTABLE IN 1838, AND 15 YEARS
LATER, THAT'S MILLAIS.
THAT'S THE IMPACT OF THESE NEW
SYNTHETIC COLOURS.
IN FACT, THESE COLOURS, PEOPLE
HAD NEVER SEEN COLOURS THIS
VIBRANT BEFORE, AND SOME CRITICS
JUST COULDN'T --
THEY WERE JUST TOO MUCH FOR THE
CRITICS TO HANDLE.
SOMEONE ACCUSED THE
PRE-RAPHAELITES OF USING GREENS
THAT WERE “UNRIPE ENOUGH TO
CAUSE INDIGESTION.”

[Audience laughter]

Philip says WELL, THANKS TO
FIELD, TURNER WAS ABLE TO
ACQUIRE THESE NEW COLOURS ALMOST
AS SOON AS THEY WERE INVENTED,
AND HE WAS AMONGST THE FIRST
PAINTERS IN ENGLAND TO USE MANY
OF THEM, TO USE COBALT BLUE AND
EMERALD GREEN AND VIRIDIAN AND
CHROME YELLOW.
THIS WAS ALWAYS A GAMBLE BECAUSE
EVEN WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF
SOMEONE LIKE FIELD, YOU COULD
NEVER BE SURE THAT THESE
MATERIALS WEREN'T GOING TO FADE
OR DISCOLOUR OVER TIME, AND IN
FACT, SEVERAL OF TURNER'S
PAINTINGS HAVE SUFFERED THAT
WAY.
BUT ALL THE SAME, TURNER REMAINS
ONE OF THE GREATEST INNOVATORS
IN COLOUR, AND HE BROUGHT A
BLAZE OF VENETIAN BRIGHTNESS TO
THE DOUR PALETTES OF MOST EARLY
19th CENTURY ART.
THIS PAINTING IN PARTICULAR...

A new oil painting depicts a sunrise scene in which a warship with long oars reaches a coast.

Philip continues THIS IS “ULYSSES DERIDING
POLYPHEMUS,” SO IT'S DEPICTING A
SCENE FROM THE
ODYSSEY,
AND IT WAS CONSIDERED SHOCKING
BY MANY CONTEMPORARY CRITICS.
ONE OF THEM SAID IT WAS “A
SPECIMEN OF COLOURING RUN MAD,
POSITIVE VERMILION, POSITIVE
INDIGO AND ALL THE MOST GLARING
TINTS OF GREEN, YELLOW AND
PURPLE.”
ANOTHER PERHAPS MORE PERCEPTIVE
OBSERVER COMPARED TURNER TO A
REMBRANDT BORN IN INDIA.

(Quiet audience laughter)

Philip says AND TURNER'S USE
OF COLOUR WAS AN IMPORTANT
INFLUENCE ON THE PARISIAN
IMPRESSIONISTS SUCH AS MONET,
WHO CAME TO LONDON TO SEE HIS
WORK, AND THE IMPRESSIONISTS
MADE EQUALLY AVID USE OF THESE
NEW COLOURS.

A picture appears of a palette with soft tones of red and yellow, and several tones of murky green and dark brown.

Philip continues THIS IS A TYPICAL PALETTE OF THE
IMPRESSIONISTS.
IN FACT, HERE THE REDS TOWARDS
THE TOP DON'T FARE SO WELL.
THEY'RE SORT OF APPLIED RATHER
THICKLY SO IT DOESN'T GIVE YOU
THE IDEAL IMPRESSION OF WHAT
THEY LOOKED LIKE.
BUT, IN FACT, OF THESE
20 COLOURS, 12 OF THEM WERE
INVENTIONS OF THE 19th CENTURY.
12 OF THEM DIDN'T EXIST BEFORE
THEN.
AND THE SHOCK OF SEEING THE WORK
OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS WASN'T
JUST THAT OF SEEING A NEW STYLE
OF PAINTING WITHOUT THE CLEAR
AND SMOOTH EDGES FAVOURED BY THE
FRENCH ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS BUT
ALSO THAT OF SEEING COLOURS THAT
HAD NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE ON CANVAS.

Now an impressionist painting shows two women in white dresses rowing in a bright blue water that reflects the sky.

Philip continues IN THIS PICTURE BY RENOIR,
“BOATING ON THE SEINE,” APART
FROM THE TRADITIONAL LEAD WHITE,
THERE ARE JUST SEVEN PIGMENTS
HERE, AND ALL OF THEM, APART
FROM THE REDS, ARE THESE MODERN
SYNTHETIC COLOURS (COBALT BLUE
IN THE RIVER, VIRIDIAN, CHROME
YELLOW, LEMON YELLOW, WHICH WAS
ANOTHER NEW COLOUR, AND CHROME
ORANGE IN THE BOAT HERE), AND
THEY'RE APPLIED HERE ALMOST
UNMIXED.
SO THIS IS REALLY IMPRESSIONISM
STRAIGHT FROM THE TUBE.

(Pages rustling)
[Audience laughter]

Philip says NOW, THE
IMPRESSIONIST STYLE SHAPED THE
EARLY WORK OF MANY OF THE MOST
IMPORTANT PAINTERS OF THE MODERN
AGE.
PAUL CEZANNE BEGAN AS AN
IMPRESSIONIST, AND VINCENT
VAN GOGH'S WORK WAS TRANSFORMED
WHEN HE CAME TO PARIS TO SEE
THESE PAINTINGS.
THEY GAVE HIM THE INSPIRATION TO
USE BOLD, UNMIXED NEW COLOURS
WITH GLARING BRILLIANCE SUCH AS
THOSE IN THIS PICTURE,

A painting in tones of red and yellow shows the inside of a café with a pool table.

Philip continues “THE NIGHT CAFE,” WHICH WAS
PAINTED IN 1888.
THIS LOOKS --
I MEAN YOU CAN SEE THIS IS QUITE
A DIFFERENT WORK FROM
IMPRESSIONISM.
IT'S GOT THESE HARSH DISSONANCES
IN THE COLOURS.
IN FACT, VAN GOGH SAID OF THIS,
“I'VE TRIED TO SHOW THAT THE
CAFE IS A PLACE WHERE ONE CAN
RUIN ONESELF, GO MAD, AND COMMIT
A CRIME.”

[Audience laughter]

Philip says AND HE RELIED ON
THE STRENGTH OF THESE COLOURS TO
CONVEY THE PASSIONS OF HIS
VISIONS.
IN A LETTER TO HIS BROTHER,
THEO, HE SAID, “I'VE GOT NEW
IDEAS, AND I HAVE NEW MEANS OF
EXPRESSING WHAT I WANT BECAUSE
BETTER BRUSHES WILL HELP ME, AND
I'M CRAZY ABOUT THOSE TWO
COLOURS, CARMINE (WHICH PROBABLY
MEANS A SYNTHETIC RED LAKE) AND
COBALT.
COBALT IS A DIVINE COLOUR, AND
THERE'S NOTHING SO BEAUTIFUL FOR
PUTTING ATMOSPHERE AROUND
THINGS.
CARMINE IS THE RED OF WINE, AND
IT'S WARM AND LIVELY LIKE WINE.
THE SAME WITH EMERALD GREEN.
IT'S BAD ECONOMY NOT TO USE
THESE COLOURS.
THE SAME WITH CADMIUM.”
SO YOU CAN SEE HOW THESE ARTISTS
WERE FINDING THESE COLOURS TO BE
A DIRECT SOURCE OF INSPIRATION.
HENRI MATISSE WAS ALSO AN
IMPRESSIONIST EARLY IN HIS
CAREER, BUT HE LATER USED THESE
NEW PIGMENTS TO EVEN MORE
STUNNING EFFECT AS THE
FIGUREHEAD OF THE MOVEMENT KNOWN
AS THE
FAUVES,
A FRENCH
WORD MEANING “WILD BEAST,” WHICH
REFLECTED THEIR UNINHIBITED USE
OF THESE NEW COLOURS.

A colourful impressionist portrait shows a woman wearing an ornate headpiece.

Philip continues THIS IS A PAINTING OF MATISSE'S
FROM 1905.
FAUVISM
MADE COLOUR A
CENTRAL CONSTRUCTIVE COMPONENT
OF MODERN ART.
IT BECAME ABOUT COLOUR.
AND KANDINSKY INITIALLY ALSO
PAINTED IN THIS
FAUVE
STYLE, AND HE WENT ON TO TRY TO
DISCOVER A UNIVERSAL EMOTIONAL
LANGUAGE OF COLOUR.
NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN
POSSIBLE WITHOUT THE DEVELOPMENT
OF THE VIBRANT NEW PIGMENTS IN
THE 19th CENTURY.
AND THIS EXPLOSION OF COLOUR
WASN'T JUST CONFINED TO FINE
ART.
AS CHEMISTRY BLOSSOMED, IT
BROUGHT COLOUR INTO THE WORLD AT
LARGE.
IN 1766, THE SCOTTISH CHEMIST WILLIAM CULLEN
OUTLINED THE CHEMIST'S GOAL.
HE SAID, “CHEMISTRY IS THE ART
OF PRODUCING SEVERAL ARTIFICIAL
SUBSTANCES MORE SUITABLE TO THE
INTENTION OF VARIOUS ARTS THAN
ANY NATURAL PRODUCTIONS ARE.”
“DOES THE DYER
WANT A MEANS OF TINGING A CLOTH
A PARTICULAR COLOUR?
DOES THE BLEACHER WANT A MEANS
OF DISCHARGING THESE COLOURS?
IT'S THE CHEMICAL PHILOSOPHER
WHO MUST SUPPLY THESE.”
SO THAT WAS A CHALLENGE TO THE
CHEMISTS TO MAKE THESE
MATERIALS, AND 100 YEARS LATER,
ALL OF THAT SEEMED TO BE
POSSIBLE.
ORGANIC CHEMISTS HAD DISCOVERED
HOW TO MAKE NEW DYES FROM THE
HYDROCARBON MATERIALS THAT THEY
FOUND IN COAL TAR.
COAL TAR WAS THE BLACK RESIDUE
THAT WAS PRODUCED FROM THE
GAS INDUSTRY THAT WAS PRODUCING
GAS FOR GAS LAMP BURNING, AND
THESE NEW DYES ENGENDERED
FASHIONS IN DRESS THAT WOULD
STRIKE US AS GARISH EVEN TODAY,
I THINK.
WOMEN TOOK TO THE STREETS IN
VOLUMINOUS DRESSES AND GOWNS OF
PURPLE AND MAGENTA AND OTHER
RICH COLOURS.
THE 1850s BECAME KNOWN AS THE
“PURPLE DECADE,” AND THAT'S
REFLECTED IN THIS PAINTING BY
THE PRE-RAPHAELITE ARTHUR
HUGHES, WHICH WAS PAINTED IN 1856.

An extremely realistic painting with vivid colours shows a tormented teenage girl in a blue and teal gown standing in a garden in daytime, surrounded by leaves.

Philip continues NOW, IT WAS IN THAT YEAR, IN
FACT, THAT THE FIRST COAL TAR
DYE WAS MADE BY THE CHEMIST
WILLIAM PERKIN, WHO WAS ONLY
18 YEARS OLD AT THE TIME.
HE WAS STUDYING AT THE ROYAL
COLLEGE OF CHEMISTRY UNDER THE
GERMAN CHEMIST AUGUST WILHELM
HOFMANN, AND HE DISCOVERED THIS
COAL TAR DYE CALLED MAUVE WHILE
TRYING TO DO SOMETHING
COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.
HE WAS TRYING TO MAKE THE
ANTIMALARIAL DRUG QUININE.

[Audience laughter]

Philip says HE FOUND HE
SUDDENLY HAD THIS MAUVE STUFF ON
HIS HANDS, AND HE DECIDED HE WAS
GOING TO TAKE A RISK ON THIS.
HE QUIT HIS STUDIES, AND HE
PERSUADED SOMEHOW HIS FATHER AND
HIS BROTHER TO SET UP BUSINESS
WITH HIM AND TO BUILD A FACTORY
IN HARROW TO PRODUCE THIS DYE,
AND THIS GAMBLE PAID OFF, AND
HALF A CENTURY LATER, HERE'S
PERKIN AS A SHY AND RELUCTANT
CELEBRITY...

An oil painting depicts a man in his late sixties with a bushy white beard posing with mauve thread in his hands.

Philip continues AND HE BECAME
REGARDED AS ONE OF THE GREATEST
ORGANIC CHEMISTS OF ALL TIME,
AND HERE HE'S HOLDING SOME OF
THE PURPLE OR THE MAUVE-DYED
MATERIAL THAT HE PRODUCED.
THESE COAL TAR DYES WERE
FOLLOWED BY SYNTHETIC VERSIONS
OF NATURAL DYES.
SO IN 1868, CHEMISTS FIGURED OUT
HOW TO MAKE A MOLECULE CALLED
ALIZARIN, WHICH IS THE MOLECULE
THAT GIVES MADDER RED ITS
COLOUR, AND THEN IN 1877, THEY
FOUND OUT HOW TO MAKE INDIGO.
SO INSTEAD OF HAVING TO RELY ON
PLANTS TO PRODUCE THESE
MATERIALS, THEY COULD JUST
SYNTHESIZE THEM FROM COAL TAR
AND FROM RAW MATERIALS, AND THIS
LED TO THE COLLAPSE OF THE
DYE-GROWING INDUSTRIES IN EUROPE
AND IN THE BRITISH COLONIES IN
INDIA, BUT IT ALSO SPAWNED THE
ENTIRE MODERN CHEMICALS
INDUSTRY.
THE COMMERCIAL CALL FOR THESE
DYES WAS IMMENSE, AND DYE
MANUFACTURERS THRIVED, AND
TOWARDS THE END OF THE CENTURY,
THEY BEGAN TO DIVERSE INTO NEW
AREAS, PARTICULARLY
PHARMACEUTICALS.
IN 1909, PAUL EHRLICH DISCOVERED
THE FIRST SYNTHETIC DRUG,
SALVARSAN, A CURE FOR SYPHILIS,
AND HE FOUND THAT AFTER
EXPERIMENTING WITH THE STAINING
OF CELLS USING THESE MODERN
SYNTHETIC DYES.
ALL THE CHEMICAL GIANTS OF TODAY
(HOECHST, B.A.S.F., AGFA, BAYER)
ALL THESE GIANT
CHEMICAL COMPANIES BEGAN THEIR
LIVES AS DYE MANUFACTURERS.
SO YOU COULD SAY THAT NOT ONLY
DID CHEMISTRY GIVE US COLOUR,
BUT THE QUEST FOR COLOUR GAVE US
MODERN CHEMISTRY.
NOW, THE PIGMENTS OF MODERN
TIMES INCURRED THEIR OWN STORIES
ABOUT HOW ART EVOLVED IN THE
20th CENTURY, AND IF I HAD TIME,
WHICH I DON'T, I WOULD TALK TO
YOU ABOUT THE INFLUENTIAL COLOUR
THEORY OF THE CHEMIST WILHELM
OSTWALD, WHO WAS ALSO AN AMATEUR
PAINTER AND WHO MADE HIS OWN
PIGMENTS.
I'D LIKE TO HAVE TRACED THE
EVOLUTION OF THE DAY-GLO COLOURS
THAT ANDY WARHOL AND ROY
LICHTENSTEIN USED OR THE IMPACT
OF NEW SYNTHETIC PAINT MEDIA
LIKE ACRYLICS AND alkyds.
THESE HAD AN IMPACT ON THE
COLOUR CHOICES OF PAINTERS LIKE
THE ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISTS.
IN THE 1950s, AMERICAN ARTISTS
LIKE FRANK STELLA STARTED TO USE
HOUSEHOLD PAINTS THAT WERE MADE
USING THESE NEW RESINS, AND SO
THE PALETTES THAT THEY USED WERE
PRETTY MUCH AT THE MERCY OF THE
PEOPLE, THESE COMMERCIAL
COMPANIES MAKING HOUSEHOLD
PAINTS, AND SO PEOPLE LIKE
STELLA TOOK COLOUR INTO A
COMPLETELY NEW TERRITORY.
FOR EXAMPLE, THEY USED METALLIC
PAINTS IN SOME OF THEIR WORKS,
METALLIC PAINTS THAT WERE MEANT
FOR INDUSTRIAL USES.
BUT I'LL CONCLUDE WITH A SINGLE
MODERN PARABLE ABOUT CHEMISTRY
AND COLOUR IN ART, AND THAT'S
THE STORY OF THE WORLD'S MOST
BEAUTIFUL BLUE.
YVES KLEIN WAS NEVER AN ARTIST
IN THE LEAGUE OF TURNER OR
REMBRANDT OR TITIAN, BUT HE'S
REMEMBERED FOR ONE THING,
INTERNATIONAL KLEIN BLUE, WHICH
HE USED IN A SERIES OF
MONOCHROME PAINTINGS FROM THE
1950s, AND HERE IT IS.

A solid blue painting appears.

Philip continues I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN.
THIS ONE'S THE WRONG WAY AROUND
ACTUALLY.
NO, JUST JOKING!

[Audience laughter]
(Pages rustling)

Philip says ACTUALLY, TO BE
FAIR, THIS IS A COLOUR THAT YOU
CAN'T DO JUSTICE TO IN A SLIDE.
I MEAN IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ONE
OF YVES KLEIN'S MONOCHROME
PAINTINGS, I'D RECOMMEND YOU DO
BECAUSE YOU DON'T REALLY SEE THE
LUSTRE OR THE TEXTURE OF THIS
PAINT, AND THAT'S THE KEY TO IT.
KLEIN, YVES KLEIN, BELIEVED THAT
COLOUR ALONE WAS SUFFICIENT TO
SAY ALL HE HAD TO SAY, AND IN
1954, HE SAID, “I BELIEVE THAT
IN FUTURE, PEOPLE WILL START
PAINTING PICTURES IN ONE SINGLE
COLOUR AND NOTHING ELSE BUT
COLOUR,” AND THAT'S JUST WHAT HE
DID.
NOW, KLEIN'S BLUE IS, IN FACT,
NOTHING ELSE THAN ULTRAMARINE,
BUT ULTRAMARINE NEVER LOOKED
LIKE IT DID BEFORE HE USED IT.
KLEIN REALIZED THAT PIGMENTS
TENDED TO LOOK RICHER AND MORE
GORGEOUS WHEN THEY WERE JUST
POWDER RATHER THAN MIXED WITH A
BINDER TO MAKE A PAINT, AND HE
WANTED TO TRY TO FIND A WAY TO
CAPTURE THAT APPEARANCE, THAT
SORT OF LUSTROUS APPEARANCE OF
THE DRY POWDER IN A PAINT, AND
IN 1955, HE FOUND HIS ANSWER.
IT WAS A NEW SYNTHETIC RESIN
THAT WAS MADE BY THE
(French name) CHEMICALS COMPANY,
AND HE FOUND THIS COULD BE
THINNED TO ACT AS A BINDER
WITHOUT IMPAIRING THE CHROMATIC
STRENGTH, THE BRILLIANCE, OF THE
PIGMENT, AND THIS GAVE THE PAINT
SURFACE A SORT OF MATTE VELVETY
TEXTURE, AND KLEIN COLLABORATED
WITH A PARISIAN CHEMICAL
MANUFACTURER NAMED EDOUARD ADAM
TO DEVELOP A RECIPE FOR BINDING
ULTRAMARINE INTO THIS RESIN.
AND TO PROTECT THIS WONDERFUL
NEW PAINT FROM WHAT HE WOULD
CONSIDER TO BE MISUSE, HE
PATENTED IT IN 1960.
SO HE PATENTED THIS COLOUR.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS LITTLE
EPISODE IN ART HISTORY IS TO
SHOW NOT ONLY THAT SOME ARTISTS
WERE STILL DEPENDING ON CHEMICAL
ASSISTANCE IN THE MODERN ERA BUT
ALSO THAT THE INTIMATE
RELATIONSHIP OF PAINTERS TO
THEIR MATERIALS HAD NOT BEEN
ENTIRELY SEVERED.
TODAY PAINTING IS AN
UNFASHIONABLE ART.
YOUNG ARTISTS WANT TO WORK IN
SCULPTURE AND INSTALLATION AND
VIDEO, AND ONE HEARS STORIES
ABOUT HOW STUDENTS AT
ART SCHOOLS WHO WISH TO DO
SOMETHING AS OUTMODED AS
PAINTING AUTOMATICALLY RISK
GETTING LOWER MARKS.
THERE ARE STILL PAINTERS WHO
CARE DEEPLY ABOUT COLOUR AND
PAINT, BUT THERE AREN'T MANY OF
THEM.
AND IN AN AGE
WHEN PAINTERS HAVE MORE CHOICE
OF MATERIALS THAN EVER BEFORE,
THIS MIGHT SEEM STRANGE, BUT I
WONDER WHETHER IN A WAY THAT
SURPLUS OF CHOICE MIGHT CONTAIN
THE VERY PROBLEM.
ARTISTS HAVE
LOST CONFIDENCE IN PAINT BECAUSE
THEY FEEL THEY NO LONGER
UNDERSTAND IT, AND I CAN'T HELP
BUT FEEL SAD AT HOW DIFFERENT
THIS IS FROM THE SPIRIT THAT IS
APPARENT IN AN ACCOUNT BY THE
PHOTOGRAPHER BRASSAI OF A
CONVERSATION THAT HE HAD WITH
PICASSO.

A colourful painting by Picasso appears in which dancers and musicians are represented by irregular shapes in solid colours.

Philip continues SO, TO FINISH WITH, THIS IS
PICASSO, AND THIS IS WHAT
BRASSAI SAID: “THEN THE MAN IN
THE BLUE SUIT REACHES INTO HIS
POCKET AND TAKES OUT A LARGE
SHEET OF PAPER, WHICH HE
CAREFULLY UNFOLDS AND HANDS TO ME.
IT'S COVERED WITH PICASSO'S
HANDWRITING, LESS SPASMODIC AND
MORE STUDIED THAN USUAL.
AT FIRST SIGHT, IT RESEMBLES A
POEM.
20 OR SO VERSES ARE ASSEMBLED IN
A COLUMN SURROUNDED BY BROAD
WHITE MARGINS.
EACH VERSE IS PROLONGED WITH A
DASH, OCCASIONALLY A VERY LONG
ONE.
BUT IT IS NOT A POEM.
IT IS PICASSO'S MOST RECENT
ORDER FOR COLOURS.
FOR ONCE, ALL THE ANONYMOUS
HEROES OF PICASSO'S PALETTE
TROOPED FORTH FROM THE SHADOWS
WITH PERMANENT WHITE AT THEIR
HEAD.
EACH HAD DISTINGUISHED HIMSELF
IN SOME GREAT BATTLE -- THE BLUE
PERIOD, THE ROSE PERIOD, CUBISM,
GUERNICA.
EACH COULD SAY, 'I TOO, I WAS
THERE.'
AND PICASSO, REVERING HIS OLD
COMRADES IN ARMS, GIVES TO EACH
OF THEM A SWEEP OF HIS PEN, A
LONG DASH THAT SEEMS A FRATERNAL
SALUTE: 'WELCOME, PERSIAN RED,
WELCOME, EMERALD GREEN, CERULEAN
BLUE, IVORY BLACK, COBALT
VIOLET, CLEAR AND DEEP.
WELCOME, WELCOME.'.”
THANK YOU.

(Audience applause)

The clip ends and Andrew reappears in the studio with a caption that reads “Andrew Moodie.”

He says SO, THIS IS
HOW THE HISTORY OF ART IS
INEXTRICABLY LINKED TO THE
CHEMISTRY THAT MADE IT POSSIBLE,
AND I CAN UNDERSTAND BALL'S
EXUBERANCE AT REVEALING TO US
THE HIDDEN SCIENTIFIC GENIUS
BEHIND ALL GREAT WORKS OF ART.
BUT ALAS, IT'S
THE VAN GOGHS AND THE MATISSES
WE WILL REMEMBER.
THE GEORGE FIELDS AND THE
WILLIAM PERKINS WE WILL NOT.
I CAN ONLY IMAGINE THE LOOK ON
REMBRANDT'S FACE WHEN HE WAS
TOLD EXACTLY WHAT MADE INDIAN
YELLOW SO... YELLOW.
WE MUST, HOWEVER, HEED THE
LESSONS LEARNED FROM CARL
WILHELM'S USE OF ARSENIC IN
GREEN PAINT, AND WE SHOULD NEVER
ASSUME THAT THE PROBLEMS OF
PIGMENT TOXICITY BELONG TO THE
PAST.
PIGMENTS AND DYES ARE USED IN
FABRICS AND PLASTICS, PAINTS AND
COMPUTER PRINTERS, AND THEY CAN
AFFECT US.

He shows the painting of the toddler again and continues
BEING THE FATHER OF A BEAUTIFUL
LITTLE GIRL, I CAN'T HELP BUT WORRY.
NOW IF YOU'LL EXCUSE ME, I HAVE
TO HANG THIS ON A WALL.
FOR
BIG IDEAS,
I'M
ANDREW MOODIE.

[Theme music plays]

The end credits roll.

bigideas@tvo.org

416-484-2746

Big Ideas. Producer, Wodek Szemberg.

Producers, Lara Hindle, Mike Miner, Gregg Thurlbeck.

Logos: Unifor, Canadian Media Guild.

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 2007, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Science writer Philip Ball