These hues can thank mummies and heavy metals for their existence.
The striking green color in ‘Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin’ by Vincent van Gogh is made with the aid of arsenic. (Photo: Vincent van Gogh/Wikimedia Commons)
Our obsession with color goes way back: Prehistoric people mixed plant colors, and during the Middle Ages, the only way to achieve a brilliant blue was from Lapis lazuli, a deep blue stone found only in Afghanistan. (It was more valuable than gold for a time.)
At Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, Edward Forbes, considered a father of conservation in the United States, was interested in colors as a way to authenticate paintings. In the process of figuring out if a classic Italian painting really was what its seller said, he collected and the could later reference his own pigment collection, which eventually grew to more than 2,500 examples. Each one had its own history, including where it came from, how it was made, and how it was used. Read more.