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Painters’ Colours, Oils, and Varnishes: A Practical Manual by George H. Hurst, F.C.S. – published in 1892

Painters’ Colours, Oils, and Varnishes: A Practical Manual by George H. Hurst, F.C.S. Published in 1892 by Charles Griffin & Company, Limited, Exeter Street, Strand, London

I love this book and, I want to share some of what is in it, with links, so that the information can be used by artists and people doing various crafts.  The old information is fascinating and, coupled with what is available today – it is usable!  Be safe!  Be careful!  Most of this is not safe for children.  Please, always  keep safety in mind.

IMG_0088As I get going on this little project, I will add excerpts and links below.  Please feel free to comment, add and send links – the more information and the easier it becomes to find it, the better for everyone!

I am going to try to update this post regulary, with more excerpts and more links, as I work my way through this book!


Chapter I:  Introductory. Colour, Colours, Paints and Varnishes.

from page 4, “Cause of Colour in Coloured Bodies. — The actual reasons why bodies such as vermilion, magenta, or emerald green are coloured, it is almost impossible to investigate in the present state of knowledge, since the cause, whatever it may be, must be due to the molecular construction of the different compounds about which very little is known…”

  • Geology is the key word here.  Geologists have been working to increase our knowledge base of Earth in general and specifically, in this case, our knowledge of pigments. Here is a great place to read about colour, Dust to Dust:  A Geology of Color by Heidi Gustafson  –  if you like playing in the dirt, foraging for rocks and then doing something with them, Heidi Gustafson’s website has some great information in it!

from page 5, “Colour Theories. — Two theories of colour are in use to explain the coloured effects of light.  The old theory… Brewster… The more modern theory, first broached by Young and more fully developed by Helmholtz…”

  • Sir David Brewster’s (1871-1868) work on colour theory is from the 1830’s.  His work “On a new analysis of solar light” was written in 1831 and published by Charles Tait, and Bell & Bradfute; and T. Cadell, London.  One place I have found credit for Sir David Brewster’s theories on the perception of colour is in an article by Peter John Brownlee, “Color Theory and the Perception of Art“, published in 2009 by The University of Chicago Press Journals.
  • Thomas Young, M.D. (1773-1829), was a scientist studying human perception of colour and in 1802 wrote a treatise speculating on how the human eye works to perceive colour.  There is also a lecture series by Thomas Young, “A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts” which was published in London by Joseph Johson, St. Paul’s Church Yard, in 1807.
  • Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894), continued work on the development of Thomas Young’s theories of human colour perception.  This work is known as the “Young-Hemholtz Theory” and furthers Thomas Young’s theories as to how our eyes actually work to perceive color.
  • This body of knowledge has been expanded upon for more than the 250 years shown in these writings and continues to grow today.  Here are just a few examples of the psychology of colour perception that are a little more recent.

from page 6, “Colours. — … the term “colours” is used in two senses — first, to express the sensation which light of various kinds… excites on the retina of the eye, and which sensation is purely functional; second, … [the] imparting [of] colour to other bodies;  such bodies are known as colouring matters and may be divided into two groups, dyestuffs and pigments….”

  • sensations of light, through rather than on the retina, continue to be studied by the scientific and psychological communities today.  This is fascinating research and the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas has some open access resources on this subject.
  • dyestuffs, as referred to by George Hurst, are materials which provide ‘soluable’ material that can be used to add colour to another item.  In other words, dyeing or staining, imparts temporary colour to other items.  If you have access to a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition and history of the word ‘dyestuff’ is fascinating.  Most libraries have a copy of the OED and may also allow access to the online version.
  • pigments, then, as defined by George Hurst in 1892, are ‘nonsoluable’ materials which provide a more permanent, opaque colour to things like paint.  Most of the chapters in this book are about pigments, where to find them, what to find them in, how to extract them and, how to use them.


Chapter II:  White Pigments

Chapter III:  Red Pigments

Chapter IV:  Yellow and Orange Pigments

Chapter V:  Green Pigments

Chapter VI:  Blue Pigments

Chapter VI:  Brown Pigments

Chapter VII:  Black Pigments

Chapter IX:  Lakes

Chapter X:  Assay and Analysis of Pigments

Chapter XI:  Colour and Paint Machinery

Chapter XII:  Paint Vehicles

Chapter XIII:  Driers

Chapter XIV:  Varnishes


A related post, and… a very interesting one!

Colour Theory from 1882

book cover   title page

The link takes you to a high resolution copy of this amazing 800+ page book.


Ex-Situ: Archeaological Chaos Theory….

Chaos in the Classroom:

I actually received permission from my instructor to do this!

I have a tendency to freak out a bit, okay – a lot, when I have to do a class presentation and therefore, I neither enjoy either figuring what to do nor doing them so….  When the professor announced that everyone gets a good mark for their presentation “no matter what, you just have to do it!”  All of a sudden this enormous weight was taken off of my shoulders and I thought, “why not have fun?”

…and I did!

I cut paper meant for the recycle bin into small pieces and turned each piece into an artifact.  There were pottery shards, broken bits of things, gold jewelry, jewels, and pieces of cloth.  A small assortment of these artifacts went to each of the sixteen tables in the classroom.  The students immediately starting sorting the loot!

As I walked and distributed the artifacts I talked about Belzoni and the raiding of the temple of Abu Simbel in Egypt.  Then I asked, “What happened to it?  What happened to all of the artifacts that were taken from Abu Simbel?”

The class became quiet.  This really, really happened!  I asked, “Who has a nice piece of pottery?”  Several hands went up.  I walked over to one of the first and I said, “You just dropped that on floor and held out a garbage bag.”  She pouted and put the paper artifact into the garbage bag.  I asked, “Who has pottery shards?”  Several hands went up.  I walked around with the garbage bag and collected pottery shards and told one sentence stories about using the 6,000 shards at the bottom of plant pots.  I asked,”Who has gold?”  A hand went up near me – he really wanted to keep it.  It was shiny and perfect!  I asked, “Who has a piece of broken jewelry?”  Hands went up, some reluctantly….  My one story became, “you melted it down and had it made into a lovely necklace for your girlfriend.  She left you…”  And, I held out my bag.

I told a few very quick stories about owning an antique shop and some of the re-purposed treasures that have passed through my hands.  I talked about silk, its ultimate decay and what happens when it gets very old in an uncontrolled environment.

Back at the front of the classroom I did a Google search for Cycladic figures and talked about the loss of opportunity archaeologists are facing.

The other name for ex-situ artifacts are collectibles.  The shinier and prettier they are the more likely mainstream society will find the temptation to own one or a reproduction irresistible.

Studies have been done on ex-situ artifacts.  The book Dragons of Silk, Flowers of Gold: A Group of Liao-Dynasty Textiles at the Abegg-Stiftung edited by Regula Schorta is a good example.  These studies do put more knowledge out there, however, it is only knowledge about things, not about the people who made and used the things.

Archaeology isn’t just about things, nor is a museum.  Archaeology is about discovering our past.  Museums are about preserving it.

The final question in my paper, due next week, will need to deal with my thoughts on ex-situ artifacts and whether or not they should be purchased for preservation.  My opinion right now is that yes, they need to be purchased and preserved, however, doing so rewards those who are still looting, obtaining artifacts illegally.  Even though most people have a difficult time with the ethics of what Belzoni was doing in 1817, I do not believe that he was doing anything illegal.  Today, we know better.