Blazing Yellow – PART 4



Welcome to the final part of Blazing Yellow. Discover what the ‘modern yellows’ have to offer, and how some artists use fluorescent yellow to stand out. Understand why yellow doesn’t always mean sunshine and rainbows to all cultures.


Lemon Yellow

The pigment known as “lemon yellow” colour can consist of barium chromate, strontium chromate, or a mixture of lead chromate with lead sulphate. The preparation was described by Vauquelin in 1809, but not produced commercially until many years later. 

During the nineteenth century, it was often mixed with strontium chromate, and the name ‘lemon yellow’ was liable to be used for barium chromate, strontium chromate and a mixture of the two.  

Sometimes known as Barium Yellow, as this is a Barium Chromate (the original toxic pigment PY31). Unlike Lead Chromates, Barium has proved to be permanent and non-reactive. Now considered to be obsolete, Michael Harding of Michael Harding Colours claims to be the only colourman making the true colour.

The yellow has slight citrus green overtones. The low tint and covering properties means it makes beautiful greys useful in painting flesh tones. It’s a stable yellow with low hiding power. The only yellow chrome colour which does not discolour.

Claude Monet’s ‘Water lily Garden of  1919 is a great example of his ‘broken colour’ style  where pure colours radiate when placed near their opposites. Here the lemon yellow shimmers strongly when it sits near mauve tones.

Most manufacturers today offer Hansa Yellow Light PY3 as the standard Lemon Yellow. It is much more saturated and intense hue than the original Barium Chromate.

The closer non-toxic match to the original Barium Chromate pigment is Nickel Titanate Yellow PY53. Offered by many oil paint companies today as Lemon Yellow Hue or Nickel Yellow and is often is generally more expensive than Hansa Yellow Light.


Cobalt Yellow

Cobalt yellow was an expensive yellow that was briefly in vogue. It is a brilliant, transparent yellow pigment commonly known by the name aureolin. Cobalt yellow was first synthesized by N.W. Fischer in 1831 as part of his study of nitrite salts but he did not describe the compound specifically until 1848. Meanwhile, Saint-Evre, working in Paris, independently rediscovered the compound around 1851 and introduced it as a pigment. First appearing in Windsor & Newton’s catalogs in is claimed to made popular by the English watercolourist Aaron Penly (1806-1870) and German artist and illustrator Georg Mühlberg (1863-1925).

Left: A View Of Windermere by Aaron Edwin Penley Right: Mr Portrait by Georg Mühlberg


Hanza Yellow

Hansa yellow was first made in Germany before World War I in 1909 by Hermann Wagner who worked for chemical company, Hoechst. Discovered in Germany by the Hoechst company. It is also called arylide yellow as it is formed by coupling diazo amines to acetoarylide. The first pigment of the arylide yellows group designated PY 1 (pigment yellow 1). It started to be commercially available around 1925 and more widely used predominantly as a replacement for the toxic cadmium yellow after 1950. 

Many painters worried about the toxicity of cadmium are now moving to the Hansa colors. Hansa yellow is similar in hue to cadmium yellow, but Hansa Yellow is

Form Against Yellow, 1936 by American Kinetic artist Alexander Calder, embraced the vibrancy of the new modern colours such as Yellow Hanza.


High Vis Yellow

Standing out from the crowd

Flouroscent colours started back in 1933 with a student named Bob Switzer, bumping his head and wanting to develop unique magic tricks with his brother. They went on to work for the movies and create paint for the military. Day-Glo colours hit advertising and packaging in the 1960s.

In 2012, the American Chemical Society awarded DayGlo Color Corporation a national historic chemical landmark designation for the development of its pigments, citing the Switzer brothers’ inventions as a “symbol of safety and protection that improve our daily lives.”

Many artists have been using Fluroscent colours to make a statement. Andy Warhol used them to promote the comercialism in many of his silk screen prints.

Swiss contemporary artist Ugo Rondinone utilizes metaphoric and iconographic images and uses flouro colours of psychedelia and advertising to make us contemplate our everyday life and activities.

“Seven Magic Mountains,” is a supersized public art sculpture created by Swiss contemporary artist Ugo Rondinone and constructed in the Nevada Desert in America.

“Seven Magic Mountains,” the public art sculpture Rondinone created in the Nevada Desert. It consists of seven colossal stone forms in various day-glo colors that resemble “hoodoos,” also called “tent rocks” and “earth pyramids,” which are tall, thin spires of rock that protrude from drainage basins. A creative expression of human presence in the desert, Seven Magic Mountains punctuates the Mojave with a poetic burst of form and colour.

Produced by the Nevada Museum of Art and Art Production Fund. The exhibition opened May 11, 2016, and was originally scheduled to be on view for two years. Due to the incredible success of Seven Magic Mountains since its opening the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a three-year permit extension for the artwork, allowing the installation to remain on view through the end of 2021. The $3.5 million project draws about 1,000 people per day.

Watch the video > 

Colonial cues

Glasgow born Joan Ross who now lives in Australia uses fluro yellow to represent to possessive ownership of colonisation. Making a variety of works from collages to videos this colour has become her language of ‘invasion’.

The digital animation: The claiming of things of 2012 Joan Ross shows how much of an impact this colour can make visually and metaphorically.

Watch the animation here > 

“I have added my own perspective on colonisation and what ‘being civilised’ is … I use fluoro as a metaphor for colonisation. I saw the influx of fluoro after 9/11 – in a way, fluoro represents a type of colonising, but also a type of fear.”    Joan Ross, 2012



Yellow was the emperor’s colour in Imperial China.

What yellow means in other cultures?

To a westerner from the land down under, yellow means sunshine, golden beaches and summer days. It’s important to remember that how we interperate the meaning of a colour is often dependent on our country of origin and our personal experiences with it.

Let’s check out how other countries perceive the colour yellow.

In most Western cultures, yellow brings to mind positivity. However, in France and Germany, it is sometimes associated with envy.

Eastern/Asian cultures: Yellow also has mostly positive associations in most Asian cultures. In Japan, it is a royal colour that represents courage and prosperity. In Thailand, it is a lucky colour associated with the recently deceased King Bhumibol. 

In China, yellow is assigned to the active and creative male Yang principle. It was the emperor’s colour in Imperial China and holds the symbolic colour of the five legendary emperors of ancient China. Yellow often decorates royal palaces, altars and temples, and the colour was used in the robes and attire of the emperors. 

Strangely yellow is also associated with pornography in China. Adult movies are referred to as yellow movies. In Japan, yellow often represents courage.

In the Middle East in Egypt, yellow is the colour of mourning. Yet in other regions it is received more positively. Yellow also symbolizes mourning in Latin America. In Africa:it is the colour of wealth and status. 

Ancient Egyptians ascribed yellow to the female principle.

In Russia, a colloquial expression for an insane asylum used to be “yellow house.” Bright “marigold” yellow may be associated with death in some areas of Mexico.

Yellow is the colour most often associated with the deity in many religions (Hinduism and Ancient Egypt).

A yellow patch was used to label Jews in the Middle Ages. European Jews were forced to wear yellow or yellow “Stars of David” during the Nazi era of prosecution. Those condemned to die during the Spanish Inquisition wore yellow as a sign of treason.

The blooming of Mustard fields in India is a sign that Spring has sprung.

India loves yellow

In India yellow is the colour of knowledge and learning. It symbolizes happiness, peace, meditation, competence and mental development. It is the colour that activates the mind. Lord Vishnu’s dress is yellow as do Lord Krishna and Ganesha also wear yellow dresses. Single girls wear yellow to attract a mate and ward evil spirits away

Vasant Panchami – celebrating Spring

Vasant Panchami is a festival that marks the preliminary preparations for the arrival of spring. It is celebrated in various ways depending upon the region of India. The Vasant Panchami also marks the start of preparation for Holika and Holi, which takes place forty days later. The Vasant Utsava (festival) on Panchami is celebrated forty days before Spring. 

‘Yellow’ is the dominant color of this festival as it signifies the ripening of fruits and crops. The mustard fields in North India blooms during this season giving a yellow coat to nature. People wear yellow clothes to mark flowering mustard fields, offer yellow flowers to Goddess and put a yellow, turmeric tilak on their forehead. They visit temples and offer prayers to various gods. New clothes are purchased for this festival and many delicious dishes are especially prepared for this particular occasion.

The festival of Vasant Panchmi, uses yellow as an icon for the coming of Spring (and a good excuse to sell a stack of yellow fashions and accessories).



Why is gold yellow?

It’s time to get technical

To explain the colour of gold you need a mix of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s Special Relativity.

Quantum mechanics describes an atom’s electrons sitting in discrete orbitals. In the case of silver, it takes a high-energy, ultraviolet photon to kick an electron up to a higher orbital. Lower-energy, visible photons are reflected back so silver acts like a mirror.

Relativity comes into play because, due to the size of gold atoms, its electrons are travelling at over half the speed of light. Einstein’s theory tells us that at these speeds the mass of the electrons increases, which in turn means the energy needed to kick them up to another orbital is reduced.

So lower-energy blue photons are absorbed, and don’t get reflected by the gold. And if blue is removed, we see yellow.

Too complicated? Go here for more info…



Do you need a colour fix? Here’s a golden artwork I made called ‘Marjory’s Sunshine’ available as a limited edition giclée print.

Marjory's Sunshine
Marjory’s Sunshine. Limited Edition Giclee Print



Thanks for travelling with me through the amazing adventures of Yellow. Next up we will be hitching a ride down the Orange Highway that is sure to be a vibrant show stopper of a trip!

Missed Part 1,  2 and 3?

BLAZING YELLOW – PART 1 > Click here

BLAZING YELLOW – PART 2 > Click here

BLAZING YELLOW – PART 3 > Click here


This blog focuses on one of my great passions … colour. I will bring you tall tales and tidbits about the origins and uses of  colour and how it impacts our world. Colour has held many great powers throughout the ages. It plays many a leading role throughout history. It has been a killer, a saviour and a revolution maker. I thank the pioneers of colour who continue to pursue inventive ways for how colour can improve our lives. It is because of them that we can all be Colour Warriors and stay bright beyond beige. Thanks for joining me on the amazing adventures of colour!

Colour Warriors is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on
© Kristine Ballard 2019