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Color of the month - Indigo

I love to know how the colors we use in our paintings invented and how they are made. I am starting a new series called “The color of the month” where I will post about a color each month, about its history, how it was invented, the famous paintings made using the color, etc.

Of course the Indigo has to be the first because it is one of my personal favourite color. I love Indigo. So, let’s get to know this beautiful color.

How it was invented?

Marco Polo (thirteenth century) was the first to report on the preparation of indigo in India. The indiagofera tinctoria plant thrives in a tropical climate; the active ingredient is found in the leaves. Aniline blue has the same chemical composition and replaced it in 1870. Indigo does not hold up well in an oil base but makes an excellent watercolor paint.

Indigo is one of the oldest textile dyes, used for centuries in countries such as India, Japan, Egypt and Peru, and its use in pottery and frescoes dates as far back as ancient Mayan civilisations. In the 19th century thousands of chests of the dye were exported from India to Europe to be used to colour clothes – including for the French army, who wore dark blue indigo uniforms during the French Revolution as a more robust and practical colour than white. Indigo dye continues to be used for clothing, especially denim, and in fact is lauded for its fading qualities when used for jeans, which add depth to the texture.

How it was made years ago?

It was initially created from plants that were cut and packed into large vats, where they softened and fermented. The dark precipitate was then skimmed, strained, pressed and dried into cakes which formed the basis of indigo. This pigment is the natural plant-based pigment used for dyeing clothes, which fades over time and is not to be confused with the synthetic pigment.

Famous painting made with Indigo

A girl with a pearl earring by Vermeer

Synthetic indigo dye

The British chemist William Perkin, at the age of just 18, was the first to create a modern synthetic dye. In 1856, while he was experimenting with creating a synthetic version of quinine (the medicine used for treating malaria), he yielded a black solid in a failed attempt to produce this, but on cleaning the flask he noticed a bright purple liquid. When he dipped a piece of silk into it he found a permanent mauve dye on the material. His curiosity may have been fuelled by the fact he had once dreamt of being an artist.

This discovery opened up new possibilities for colourmen, and in 1878 the German chemist Adolf Von Baeyer worked out how to synthesise indigo. Commerce in natural indigo declined and high quality synthetic indigo is now used for pigments.

Below is the painting I made using Indigo from Winsor and Newton

Interesting facts

Indigo planting in Bengal dated back to 1777 when Louis Bonnaud, a Frenchman introduced it to the Indians. He was the first indigo planter of Bengal.

In 1997, when Shakespeare’s Globe was reconstructed in London, indigo was used to paint the heavens of the theatre.

Scientists discovered in 2008 that when a banana becomes ripe, it glows bright indigo under a black light.



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