Painters’ Palettes

from Historical Writings

An Intermedia Website



Pigment swatches courtesy of L. Cornellisen & Son

Artists’ Colourmen, London





This is a resource site on historical colours and pigments complemented by TITLES on artists’ Colour Palettes published by Artists . Bookworks. Projected is a series of little books on painters’ colour palettes, by century, the pigments described by historical authors extracted from their treatises. Each little volume contributes to the building of a history of pigments and colours in European painting from Greece and Rome – 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. – to the French Impressionists’ Palettes of Light. They combine to make up a unique and important collection of primary sources on pigments, complemented by discussions of artistic issues raised by the treatises.

This website is a companion to the book TITLES. The Index of PIGMENTS brings together an alphabetical listing of all the pigments named and described in the TITLES, each pigment annotated by author

so as to reveal the history of pigment names, by century. Similarly, the TREATISES are compiled into an alphabetical listing to give an overview of the history of the writings on which the published TITLES are based, while a general LOGO BIBLIO is also provided. A section is devoted to each TITLE which contains a resumé, Contents, and List of Pigments, to which are added complementary archival TREATISES especially for this website.


Together, Painters’ Palettes and Colour Palettes constitute intermedia publications which will be of interest to art historians, curators and collectors as well as conservators and all those who want to know about pigments and their colours through the centuries.


Logo designs by Caroline Wallis.


THE AUTHOR: Patricia Railing, PhD (University of Paris, Sorbonne, Philosophy of Art), is an art historian who specialised in Russian Avant-Garde painting and Suprematism in particular. (See Based in a colour theory of light, she found their sources in French Impressionism, which led her to pursue an investigation into pigments and colour theory through the centuries of European painting, the fruit of it being this series of little books on colour palettes, and this website.

Email –


TITLES on subsequent centuries will be added to this site as they are published.



Choice of Treatises for the Titles

Treatises from classical antiquity and the Middle Ages are few in number due to many having been lost. Hence the TITLES can be based on all or most of the known available texts, thereby providing comprehensive primary sources for the given centuries. The same can be claimed for the major known Italian Renaissance treatises.


Over the 17th and 18th centuries, however, treatises proliferated throughout Europe, so a selection had to be made. This was decided by those that were the most comprehensive and the most original – rather than being copied from other treatises – and based on the authors’ own knowledge as a painter, colour maker, or colour merchant. This is what determined the choice of texts for the 17th and 18th century TITLES.


Note on the Pigments and Kinds of Painting in the Titles

To record pigments and their definitions by century not only reveals the palettes particular to each of them, but shows shifts in the pigments, changes in recipes, and especially shifts in the names of pigments – a notable example is that the pigment today called cinnabar was called “minium” in antiquity, a name that subsequently came to refer to red lead. All this contributes to a history of the pigments themselves, and the alphabetical Index, PIGMENTS, is a practical means of identifying these shifts and changes.


Based on the century of a given TITLE, there is a sub-text flowing through: whether the pigments described are intended for use in fresco painting, on gessoed wood panels, on parchment or paper, or on canvas. Thus a history of pigments also implies a history of the kinds of painting and the respective vehicle or medium – water, gum arabic (gouache), egg tempera, oil – a theme running through the TITLES.




Impressionists’ Palettes of Light



68 pp 12 col plates, 12 mono illus

Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8 Paperback

Publication date: 1 October 2015 £8.65

ISBN 978-0-946311-00-2


The French Impressionist painters discovered new means for painting light – they used a “solar palette”, the pigments matched to the colours the eyes see. They are the colours of a ray of light.

This little book reproduces palettes by several of the plein-air painters, describes the pigments they used, and includes short excerpts by the scientists whose work was the foundation of the new painting – complementary colours, optical mixing, and the pigment-colour correspondences. It closes with colour swatches of the pigments, provided by the London artists’ colourmen, L. Cornelissen & Son.

It will be of interest to art historians, collectors, students, conservators, and museum-goers.


18th Century Colour Palettes






130 pp 24 col plates

Dimensions 21.6 x 16.8 Paperback

Publication date: December 2015 Price to be announced.

ISBN 978-0-946311-01-9


18th century European painting saw the introduction of new pigments to the painters’ palettes, from Prussian Blue to the early synthetics such as Patent Yellow. It was a century rich in pigments, two English and one French treatise listing over 150 pigments that could be bought in the shops in London and Paris.

It was also the century of new colour theories based on primary and secondary colours, demonstrated by the colour circle. Together, colour theory and the pigments described by Robert Dossie, Jean Félix Watin, and Constant de Massoul make up the contents of this important collection on 18th century painting.

It will be of interest to art historians, collectors, students, conservators, and museum-goers.






















Patricia Railing, Editor

18th Century Colour Palettes








                                                                                                                                                                                                                               1st Century Colour Palettes



NICHOLAS, YANKO – For 17th and 1st century titles see emails.



Website © Patricia Railing, October 2015