• Marina

Prussian Blue

Пост обновлен 17 сент. 2019 г.


Last Monday I told you about “goluboy” and “siniy” in the Russian language, today I want to talk about blues in paint. My favourite pigment is Prussian blue and you can see it in many of my paintings. I like it for its deep cool colour, tinting strength, subtle tones and longevity. I also like how it complements an intense red, which I like so much.


This amazing pigment was invented by accident circa 1706 by a paint manufacturer called Jacob Diesbach. He was making his signature red cochineal dye, but something went wrong. The chemical process for this dye was relatively simple combining sulphate and potash. On this occasion, the last ingredient was adulterated with animal oil by his disreputable supplier. The reaction had created potassium ferrocyanide, which had combined with iron sulphate to produce iron ferrocyanide, a compound which was named Prussian Blue by its trader. This is the first modern synthetic pigment.


This accident became a revelation in the world of colour production. Cheap and non-toxic, Prussian Blue conquered the world and soon replaced the expensive lapis lazuli (ultramarine). The first known painting with Prussian Blue is “Entombment of Christ” by Pieter van der Werff, finished in 1709, and by 1710 the pigment was widely used by painters at the Prussian court. That same year the pigment arrived in Paris, where Antoine Watteau, Nicolas Lancret and Jean-Baptiste Pater were happy to use it.

It spread across Europe and was used by different artists such as William Hogart, John Constable, Van Gogh, and Monet. Later it travelled across the sea and was favoured by Japanese masters, which used it in their woodcut prints. It was also the blue Picasso used during his blue period.


It is still a very popular pigment, used both by traditional and contemporary artists. Anish Kapoor in 1990 created his famous flattened topographical sculpture “A wing at the Heart of Things”. This is made from slate coated in Prussian Blue.


It’s also used in cyanotypes (famously named “blueprints”), in dying clothes, cosmetics and it even in medicine as a sequestering agent for certain toxic heavy metals. Amazingly, such a useful thing was created by an accident!

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