IDEAS, PAINTINGS

Green pigment – The most poisonous date

green the poisonous colour in history

Green is the colour that you get if you combine two of the three basic colours. Blue and yellow.

But the fact that you can derive it from two basic colours does not mean that it has no story to tell.

Since the greens that came from mixing yellow and blue usually turned brown after some time,

ancient people have found ways to extract the green pigment.

Green coming from the mineral malachite was first used by the ancient Egyptians.

green colour in Ancient Egypt.
Green colour was in the pallete of the ancient Egyptians.

 

Malachite was found in copper mines alongside its blue cousin azurite, both being minerals of copper carbonate.

The natural mineral is selected, crushed, ground to a powder then washed, as when separating gold.

Green pigment coming from malachite
Mineral: green malachite

 

Greeks introduced verdigris – one of the first artificial pigments.

The name Verdigris comes from the Old French verte grez, an alteration of vert-de-Grèce (“green of Greece”).

It was used as a pigment in paintings and other art objects, mostly imported from Greece (Grèce).

This is basically the natural patina that happens when bronze or brass are exposed to air and seawater for a period of time.

verdigris natural green from ancient Greece.
vert-de-Grèce (Verdigris) is the brass or bronze turning green when exposed  to natural air and  seawater.

 

Copper resinate was introduced in European painting in 15th century, but it was soon abandoned.

Thanks to chemistry, a new generation of greens was introduced beginning in the late 18th century: cobalt green, emerald green, and Viridian.

Despite that the color green evokes nature and renewal,Green pigments have been some of the most poisonous in history.

green pigment , old tin of paris green
Green pigments have been the most poisonous in history

 

In 1775, the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a deadly hue, Scheele’s Green, a bright green pigment laced with the toxic chemical arsenic.

Cheap to produce, Scheele’s Green became a sensation in the Victorian era ( 1837 – 1901).

Even though many suspected the colour to be dangerous not only for artists but patrons as well.

In an attempt to improve Scheele’s green in 1808, another green was invented and commercially available from 1814.

This became known in England as Emerald green (same as Paris Green), and for a time it was the finest green pigment known, rapidly displacing Scheele’s green.

Unusually it has a brilliant blue-green to green colour with fair hiding power.

emerald green palette
Emerald Green swatch -also poisonous

 

Unfortunately, it was also chemically not stable and very poisonous and therefore was used just until the early 1900s.

Because it was quite cheap to manufacture, emerald green was used not only as an artist’s paint but as a household paint: it was widely used on patterned wallpaper.

This transform rooms that were wet from moist into death traps.

 

green wall paper
Deadly …Green wall

 

In the 1860s the British Times newspaper expressed alarm about the possibility that young children were being killed by the deadly fumes coming out from their bedroom ‘s walls.

Unfortunately, it was not only wallpaper that was dyed green with arsenic-based emerald green— the clothes were dyed also.

 

cartoonist John Leech , the Arsenic Waltz
The Arsenic Waltz (1862), by Punch cartoonist John Leech, depicts the high price of wearing arsenic-dyed fashion: literally, dancing with death.

 

The Times newspaper asked: “What manufactured article in these days of high-pressure civilization can possibly be trusted if socks may be dangerous”

following a revelation that high levels of arsenic were found in socks!

vintage illustration of poisonous green
The picture shows an 1848 fashion plate from La Mode where the dress was probably dyed with arsenic green.

 

The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom wallpaper even featured Scheele’s Green.

Green was his favourite colour and historians believe the pigment caused the revolutionary’s death in 1821.

By the end of the 19th century, Paris Green—a similar mixture of copper and arsenic—replaced Scheele’s Green as a more durable alternative.

 

Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir with this green created vivid, emerald landscapes.

 

green pigment on Cezannes 's painting
Cezanne – Mont Saint Victore

The same element from this pigment Scheele’s Green as well as Paris Green, were used to poison mice and insects in the 1930s.

green poison paint

Paris Green was still highly toxic and may have been responsible for Cézanne’s diabetes and Monet’s blindness.

Not surprisingly, it was eventually banned in the 1960s.

Despite evidence of its high toxicity, Scheele’s Green was also used as a food dye (!!!!)

 

green putting skittish prejudice
photo credits to selerasa.com

 

Sweets such as green blancmange (a sweet like panaccota) a fondness of traders in 19th-century Greenock

This led to a long-standing Scottish prejudice against green sweets.

 

I was so touched about the stories I found about the deadly green pigments.

Especially a story about a family that lost four children in 1862 and they could not diagnose the cause at that time – you can read the story  here.

 

green deadly room illustration Angie Vourtsi
The deadly Victorian room

 

I painted the green walls with mixed elements of thorns, poisonous plants, teeth of monsters and long nails of birds within the pattern and a children’s toy-horse left  alone in the deadly painted green room of the Victorian Era.

 

 

Angie

 

 

 

My Sources for this post :

green pigments and chemistry  info was found in Wikipedia

about malachite  : the guardian.com/

verdigris :webexhibits.org/pigments/intro/greens

about Scheeler ‘s green : artsy.net

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