Into Colour - Paris Green

Paris green is bright, vivid and lethal.  This brilliant blue-green colour (sometimes known as Emerald Green) was developed in the early 19th Century, . It caused many deaths in Victorian England, but was not banned until the 1960s.

Cheap to make and more durable than Scheele’s green, Paris Green soon became popular with artists from JMW Turner to Cézanne. It was also used for a whole range of other purposes, from clothing to toys and confectionary.

Paris Green

[CC BY-SA 3.0, Chris Goulet]

Unfortunately, one of the key ingredients in Paris Green is arsenic, a favourite poison of detective fiction. The arsenic provides the bright green colour, but is also poisonous, a fact not widely appreciated in Victorian society. Arsenic also affects people in different ways, with unpleasant symptoms that mimic other illnesses.

The French government banned the use of arsenic in painting and it became a popular rat poison in Paris, hence ‘Paris Green’. Over in the UK it flourished as a pigment in a deadly way: wallpaper printing. When damp, the arsenic poisoned the atmosphere, contributing to countless deaths. Indeed, the prison where Napoleon Bonaparte died had Paris Green wallpaper, and there were arsenic traces in his body.

Sale of Paris Green was finally restricted in the 1960s, and the colour has fallen out of favour ever since.

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