Into Colour - Prussian Blue

Prussian Blue. The name brings to mind depth and power, lines of German riflemen in neat uniforms. But where did this colour come from? And why is it important?

Artists today have a dazzling selection of colours. But at the turn of the 18th Century, the colours available were much more limited. In particular, blue was tricky to come by. Indigo (used for dyes) tended to fade over time when exposed to light. Ultramarine (from lapis lazuli) gave a dazzling hue, but was more expensive gram for gram than gold.

Enter paintmaker Diesbach, stage right. Diesbach was creating some red dye in a routine procedure. Fortunately for generations of artists, his ingredients were contaminated (why and how they were contaminated is a stomach-turning story for another time...). Instead of the red dye he was expecting, he produced crystals of vivid blue. He manages to repeat the experiment and Prussian Blue was born.

Prussian Blue

Author Saalebaer, CC0 1.0

It became an overnight success, and was soon being widely manufactured and used. In an age when guilds controlled painting materials, here was a synthetic pigment that produced a beautiful blue.

Prussian Blue has flourished ever since, loved by artists as diverse as Rossetti and Hokusai. Even today it can seen, from crayons to engineering surfaces, often masquerading as Midnight Blue.

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