Notebook, 1993-



For half a century experts have tried to introduce unequivocal, binding names for all colors used both by artists and by decorators. Various reasons can be given for the failure of repeated attempts to remedy the undoubtedly confused situation, but these shall not be discussed in detail here. Since 1950 the German Standards Committee has again tried to bring order into the chaos of pigment nomenclature, and to devise interim rules for the terminology. Nothing is more difficult than changing traditional names, no matter how illogical or misleading they may be. England has managed to do it, although it has taken over more than ten years. Why should it not be possible in Germany, too? This failure to give pigments clear names, indicative of their composition, suggests an adherence to secret old recipes. If manufacturers of artists' colors occasionally rename certain pigments once the paint is in the tube, it may be for commercial reasons. But painters cannot deduce from terms like Guignet's green, Windsor blue, Munich lake, or Opaque white which pigments are involved and for what purpose they can be used.

Terminology distinguishes between color designation [in the optical sense] and pigment name [in the technological sense]. Under the present system the two terms are often confused. Sometimes vermilion is used to describe a certain shade of red; at other times it is used as a pigment name. In the first sense the term does not necessarily mean mercuric sulfide. Of course it should be more correctly named "vermilion-colored," meaning any red color similar to a typical vermilion pigment. The second sense is an exact term describing a working material without regard to the fact that vermilion can be had in several shades, ranging from bright yellowish-red to deep crimson.

Color designations will be treated in detail in the chapter on color theory. Here we are considering terms for working materials. Anyone knows how difficult it is to express oneself when dealing with color concepts. Numerous difficulties occur even with the exact pigment names. To solve these, a special working committee has been convened within the Paint Standard Committee of the German Standards Committee. A few instances may serve to illustrate the present state of chaos. Leaf green, sap green, and olive green are names from commercially available color boxes. They tell us nothing about the materials from which these colors may be made. Sap green can be made from green plant juices or from coal-tar dyes. But leaf green is not made from leaves, nor is olive green made from olives. Malachite, on the other hand, ia actually made from the well-known gem stone. Ivory black has, in recent times, rarely been made from ivory nor vine black from dried vines. Most descriptions referring to the place of [p. 56] origin no longer apply. Naples has long ceased to produce Naples yellow, and when the author asked for genuine terra di Siena in the Tuscan town of Siena, he was given some of the white clay used for Sienese ceramics. Despite the fact that all around Siena the earth is shot with striking yellow deposits of iron hydroxide, the world-famous yellow iron silicate has, since the last century, been mined chiefly at Monte Amiata, about twenty-two miles farther south. Today it is imported from Corsica and Sardinia. Veronese green earth now comes from Cyprus, but it was once found at Monte Baldo and traded at Verona. Chinese white in our watercolor boxes has no connection with China, and Paris blue was discovered in Berlin and sold first in London. Naples yellow should more correctly be called antimony yellow, especially since Naples yellow is also sold as a mixed pigment with different characteristics. Barium yellow and strontium yellow are clearer terms for ultramarine yellow. Artificial ochers are now called oxide yellow. Names like manganese black, iron-oxide black, and peach black give an indication of the origin of the pigment.

Such terms for working materials are nowadays generally considered desirable. Zinc white is as unequivocal a designation as chrome yellow or cobalt blue. Cadmium can be used to make cadmium sulfide [cadmium yellow] or cadmium sulfo-selenide [cadmium red]. Cobalt-, manganese-, or ultramarine-violet are clear descriptions of these pigments. Ultramarine blue, once traded as a semi-precious stone from beyond the sea [ultra mare], is now made as an artificial mineral pigment from clay, sulfur, coal, and Glauber's salt and it ia well known to any painter. However, to describe barium chromate as yellow ultramarine is just as absurd as cinnabar green, the descriptive name for a mixture of chrome yellow and Prussian blue.

Even so, certain fancy names can hardly be abolished, for some coal-tar pigments cannot be named conveniently according to their derivation, but can only be described by complicated formulas. Such names will have to be settled by binding agreements. Hansa yellow, with its color variants, has already become a definite working term. Names like Indanthren yellow, alizarin madder, and helio green clearly indicate organic groups from which respective pigments are derived.

Names like royal yellow or royal blue should be discouraged , as should adjectives like "permanent" for colors that do not deserve this epithet. Some names have changed in the course of time. Lead white is no longer called ceruse, and the term sinopia has fallen into disuse. Several names have disappeared because the colors have become obsolete. Few painters now use mummy, mauve, or stil de grain. The later, an impermanent lake made from buckthorn berries, is sometimes still found in French pastel boxes. In some cases the older names will have to be added in brackets for a time. Artists'-color manufacturers who usually include foreign designations for export reasons will have to use the terms commonly known abroad until a standard nomenclature is introduced by international agreement. [pp. 56-57]

[Wehlte, Kurt. The Materials and Techniques of Painting. Translated by Ursus Dix. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. 1975.]



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