Chasing Blue – PART 3



Welcome to the final addition to Chasing Blue. On these adventures you’ll discover the goblins in Cobalt blue, the cyan in Cerulean and how Klein Blue redefined abstract art. You’ll meet a blue crayfish and find out about the newest blue what makes it so ‘cool’.



Also known as Thénard’s blue, cobalt blue has appeared on objects,especially Chinese porcelain, frescos, ceramics and glass since antiquity. Painters and painting enthusiasts today know it as a distinctive and warm yet deep complement to ultramarine, phthalo, manganese and other blues.

Before its discovery, artists using cobalt worked with the a pigment named Smalt. The isolation of the blue colour of smalt was discovered in the first half of the eighteenth century by the Swedish chemist Brandt. In 1777, Gahn and Wenzel found cobalt aluminate during research on cobalt compounds. Their discovery was made during experimentation with a soldering blowpipe. The colour was not manufactured commercially until late in 1803 or 1804.

The Minister of the French government, Chaptal, appointed Louis Jaques Thénard and Mérimée to look into the improvement of artists’ colours. Thenard developed this new cobalt blue by his observations at the Sevres porcelain factory. He experimented with roasting cobalt arsenate and cobalt phosphate with alumina in a furnace. He published his results in late 1803-4 in the Journal des mines, “Sur les couleurs, suives d’un procédé pour préparer une couleur bleue aussi belle que l’outremer.”

Thénard tried the blue in oil and gum media and by the time his report was published, the colour had not changed after a two-month exposure test. Production began in France in 1807. Most sources cited regard Thenard as the inventor of the blue. However, Leithner of Vienna is also mentioned as one who developed cobalt arsenate as early as 1775.

The first recorded use of cobalt blue as a colour name in English was in 1777. The leading world manufacturer of cobalt blue in the 19th century was Benjamin Wegner’s Norwegian company Blaafarveværket (“blue colour works” in Dano-Norwegian). Germany was also famous for production, especially the blue colour works (Blaufarbenwerke) in the Ore Mountains of Saxony.

Cobalt blue was generally regarded as a durable and stable blue in the nineteenth century. It was a far cheaper option to the expensive ultramarine blue at the time. It requires one hundred percent of oil to grind it as an oil paint otherwise its cool tone can turn greenish due to the yellowing of linseed oil. To avoid the yellowing, it was suggested it be used as a glaze or mixing it with white. It is totally stable in watercolor and fresco techniques. It was considered a “modern, improved blue”and recommended it as a good substitution for ultramarine blue for painting skies.

Cobalt blue was a feature on ceramics and glassware defining its invention in the 18th century.

Risk takers in modern colour

Many of the avant garde artists throughout Europe were excited to incorporate the new found colours. Cobolt blue was adopted into the modern palette. Its use reflected a world of change and technology, in imagery and materials.

Renoir used cobalt blue on the right side ‘The Umbrellas’, (1885) and also used the new synthetic ultramarine introduced in the 1870s, when he added two figures to left of the picture a few years later.

‘The Umbrellas’ (1881 – 1885) by French artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Check out how Renoir’s work reflects the fashion of the times here >

Claude Monet used several recently invented colours including  French ultramarine, cobalt blue and cerulean blue in his ‘Gare Saint-Lazare’ (1877) and Waterloo Bridge’ (1903).

Monet and the impressionists were among the first to observe that shadows were full of colour. In his La Gare Saint-Lazare, the grey smoke, vapour and dark shadows are actually composed of mixtures of bright pigment, including cobalt blue, cerulean blue, synthetic ultramarine, emerald green, Guillet green, chrome yellow, vermilion and ecarlate red. Blue was a favourite colour of the impressionist painters, who used it not just to depict nature but to create moods, feelings and atmospheres.

‘La Gare Saint-Lazare’ (1877) by Claude Monet.


Waterloo Bridge (1903) by Claude Monet.


The Yellow House (1888) by Vincent van Gogh.


Hidden Goblins

Cobalt, is symbol Co on the periodic table with an atomic weight of 27. While in it’s natural, raw state it’s a somewhat burnished silver colour, it is famously known for producing vibrant blues in pigments. The pigments are made by heating aluminum silicates with cobalt and heating to 1200°C. Cobalt Blue has the chemical formula CoAl2O4.

Cobalt ore is notoriously tricky to extract from the ground, and could poison mines in the form of cobaltite (CoAsS), which contains arsenic and sulfur. Cobalt Blue is the only goblin hiding in the Periodic Table. For this reason in German it was referred to as kobold ore, or “goblin ore”. People even prayed for protection from cave-ins caused by kobolds. 


Cobalt Sensory applications

Cobalt contributes to quality of life by producing vivid colours whilst also being integral for the synthesis of compounds with olfactory properties. Cobalt’s ferromagnetic qualities can also be used to create sound.

Cobalt and cobalt compounds can be used to make bright and vibrant colours for inks and pigments. The most famous of these is “cobalt blue”, however the metal is used for other colours including purple, violet, green, light blue, turquoise, pink, brown and yellow.

Cobalt compounds can also be used in synthesising esters. Esters are commonly used in soaps and perfumes to create pleasant olfactory sensations. Cobalt and cobalt compounds are not found in the final product however they are important for the creation of esters. The use of cobalt as a catalyst in esterification reactions also offers economical value, as the metal replaces more expensive precious metals.

Cobalt is ferromagnetic and can be alloyed with other elements to create magnetic alloys. Both Samarium Cobalt Magnets and Neodymium Boron Magnets contain cobalt and are used in earphones, head phones and speakers.

Permanent magnets are used in ear phones to act as a transducer, converting the electrical signal into sound energy. Within each ear phone a coil produces an electromagnetic field which, alongside the permanent magnet, produces a force resulting in vibrations. Similar technology is used in loud speakers and amplifiers.



Cerulean Blue

Cerulean is a shade of blue ranging between azure and a darker sky blue. The first recorded use of cerulean as a colour name in English was in 1590. The pigment Cerulean blue was discovered in 1789 by the Swiss chemist Albrecht Höpfner. Subsequently there was a limited German production under the name of Cölinblau. In 1860 it was first marketed in the United Kingdom by colourman George Rowney, as “coeruleum”. 

The pigment is stable, and does not react to light or chemicals.  making it permanent and invaluable for artists. It is an inorganic synthetic mineral pigment made by the calcination of tins salts and silica with cobalt sulphate.

It is particularly valuable for artistic painting of skies because of its hue, its permanence, and its opaqueness. Berthe Morisot painted the blue coat of the woman in her Summer’s Day, 1879 in cerulean blue in conjunction with artificial ultramarine and cobalt blue.

Summer’s Day (1879) by Berthe Morisot.
‘Boating’ (1874) by Édouard Manet.

Cerulean was used for creating the water in Édouard Manet ‘Boating’ (1874).


International Klein Blue 

Yves Klein and his famous blue.
Yves Klein and his famous blue.

International Klein Blue (IKB) is a deep blue hue first mixed by the French artist Yves Klein. IKB’s visual impact comes from its heavy reliance on ultramarine, as well as Klein’s often thick and textured application of paint to canvas.

International Klein Blue (IKB) was developed by Yves Klein in collaboration with Edouard Adam, a Parisian art paint supplier . Klein registered the paint formula under the name International Klein Blue (IKB) at the Institut national de la propriété industrielle (INPI), but he never patented IKB. The uniqueness of IKB does not derive from the blue pigment, but rather from the matte, synthetic resin binder in which the color is suspended, and which allows the pigment to maintain as much of its original qualities and intensity of colour as possible. 

Yves Klein is remembered as the leading member of the French artistic movement of Nouveau réalisme. Klein was a pioneer in the development of performance art and a forerunner of minimal art and pop art.

His monochromes were a rejection of the idea of representation in painting. He believed they gave him a way to attain creative freedom, an “open window to freedom.” Klein did not give titles to these works but after his death in 1962 his widow Rotraut Klein-Moquay numbered all the known blue monochromes IKB 1 to IKB 194. 

Works in the making, Anthropometry series in gallery (1960).
Works in the making, Anthropometry series in gallery (1960).

For his Anthropometries series, Klein used nude female models as “brushes.” He had a  system of pressing bodies against the paper support. He staged the making of Anthropometries as elaborate performances for an audience, complete with blue cocktails and a performance of his Monotone Symphony—a single note played for twenty minutes, followed by twenty minutes of silence. 

Half a century on, his blue works still mesmerise, especially in the way their matte, physical surfaces leak colour into the air around them. That blue continues to captivate with a of purity and concentration. They remain some of the most nonreferential paintings in the history of Western art, possibly the first to go beyond traditional abstraction and become objects in their own right.

View of the exhibition, "Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers", Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (2010).
View of the exhibition, “Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers”, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (2010).



YlmMn Blue – energy efficient and toxin free

YlmMn blue was accidentally discovered by Oregon State University (OSU) chemists in 2009 while experimenting with materials to use in making electronics applications. Chemist Mas Subramanian and his team mixed a black colour (manganese oxide) with other chemicals and put them in a nearly-2000 degree Fahrenheit furnace; one of the sample results came out as a vivid blue.

YlmMn blue is formed by a unique crystal structure, which allows the manganese ions to absorb red and green wavelengths of light while only reflecting the blue hue. 

The colour is going to be used in commercial products like coatings, plastic and paint – it may also be used in roofing materials. The ‘cool blue’ compound has infrared reflectivity at about 40%, which is much higher than other blue pigments. Paints in this colour could help keep buildings cool by reflecting the infrared light. The blue is super durable,  even against oil and water and it won’t ever fade.

Ever since the early Egyptians developed some of the first blue pigments, the pigment industry has been struggling to address problems with safety, toxicity and durability.”  Mas Submarmian 

Mas Submarmian showing off the revolutionary colour.
Mas Submarmian showing off the revolutionary colour.


Crayola’s newest edition

YlnMn blue is the inspiration behind the newest Crayola crayon.

There are several benefits for why Crayola wants to give this bright blue pigment the waxy treatment. In addition to its vivid shade, it is its durablity that stands out. Even when mixed with water or subjected to changes in temperature, it won’t fade.

Boxes featuring the new blue crayon are expected to hit the shelves by the end of the 2019. Before it can make its grand debut, however, YlnMn will be receive a snazzy new name, courtesy of a colourful contest held by Crayola.

What would you name the new blue?

Crayola's 'new blue' coming soon.
Crayola’s ‘new blue’ coming soon.


New is not always better for everyone

While the new YlnMn blue is a revolution in many ways is may not be a new magic colour in the oil kit!

Robert Gamblin, creator of Gamblin oil colours was sent samples of the new blue to test its qualities. After testing he had to admit that he was disappointed for two main reasons:

1. In order to produce a regular size 37ml tube of the colour he would have to retail it for US$200. YinMn blue is comprised of 3  basic compounds, 2 of which are rare earth minerals.

2. The colour is not great as a paint. It lies somewhere in the middle of Ultramarine blue and Phthalo blue in terms of tinting strength and a bit like Cobalt blue in terms of its colour.

Robert Gamblin
Robert Gamblin creator of Gamblin Oil Colours.


Endangered blues

The blue crayfish, sometimes called the electric blue crayfish, sapphire crayfish, or the Florida crayfish.
The blue crayfish gets its colour from a lack of a gene.

The blue crayfish (scientific name Procambarus alleni, sometimes called the electric blue crayfish, the sapphire crayfish, or the Florida crayfish) is a species of freshwater crayfish endemic to Florida in the United States. Its natural range is the area east of St. Johns River and all of Florida from Levy County and Marion County southwards, as well as on some of the Florida Keys.

It is included on the IUCN Red List as a species of Endangered. The blue crayfish is threatened by deforestation.

Interestingly, it is the lack of a particular gene that causes the brilliant blue colouration of these crayfish. Crayfish are vulnerable when they are shedding their exoskeleton, so landscaping the tank with live plants, driftwood, rocks, and/or caves is vital to their survival. In the wild, this species varies from brown-tan to blue, but the aquarium strain has been a selective bred to achieve a brilliant cobalt blue colour.

Check out the video >



Chefchaouen, Morocco.
Chefchaouen, Morocco.

The Blue City of Chefchaouen

For centuries, the small mountain town of Chefchaouen in Morocco has been legendary for its largely monochromatic streets, blanketed in vibrant blue paint. A bird’s-eye view shows a cluster of cobalt buildings crawling up the mountainside, many seeming to match the sky above. Walking through one of its completely blue streets, on the other hand, gives the impression of entering a Color Field canvas.

Legend has it that the women of Chefchaouen have banded together, in the dark of night, to maintain their hometown’s chosen hue. Scholars aren’t exactly sure of the 500-year-old tradition’s origins, but some trace it back to a group of Jewish people who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. The story goes that after settling in Chefchaouen, they expressed their commitment to God by covering their homes in blue, the colour of divinity in Judaism.


Going blue 

Here are a collection of ‘blue’ references used in our language today. As with most etymology, tracing the exact origins of a reference leads us down a very fuzzy path that can mever be substantiated fully. 

Having a blue refers to having a fight or argument.

Feeling Blue
This term indicates sadness. It goes all the way back to the 1300s. Some sources point to Geoffrey Chaucer as the first author to write the word blue. He wrote Wyth teres blewe and with a wounded herte in his poem Complaint of Mars from around the year 1385. Today, we would write with tears of blue and a wounded heart. This could mean from its very first appearance, blue was connected with sadness. Scientific studies also show that people with depression might perceive the colour blue more than other colours. In Australia a company called ‘Beyond Blue’ provides support, advice and action for those suffering anxiety, depression as well as suicide prevention.

Other references claim “feeling blue” comes from the tradition of ships flying blue flags and bearing a painted blue band when a captain or another officer died. Another origin of “the blues,” is derived from blue indigo production (see PART 2), which was used by many West African cultures in death and bereavement ceremonies where all the mourners’ garments would have been dyed indigo blue to indicate suffering. This association toward the indigo plant, translated to the US and the slaves who worked on cotton in the Southern plantations, often singing dirge-like songs referred to as “the blues.”

Going blue
This is in reference to a ‘blue movie’, a euphemistic term for a pornographic film. It has since been toned down somewhat and phrases like a bit of blue can be used to say that something is ‘adult’ in nature. Often this includes dealing with sexual material but doesn’t necessarily mean visually pornographic; a comedian who tells jokes with a sexual theme could be called ‘a bit blue’. Going a bit blue then would mean that the programme/character in question is normally ‘clean’ but has begun to include more adult themes.
It would appear that the term has been used thus since the early 1800s, originating in Scotland, though a clear connection between the colour and the connotation has not been settled on.

Blue humour is a type of humour that is dirty and offensive. So if a performance or public event “goes blue”, it means that much of the humour is profane.

Blue comedy is comedy that is off-colour, risqué, indecent or profane, largely about sex. It often contains profanity and/or sexual imagery that may shock and offend some audience members.

Working blue refers to the act of performing this type of material. A “blue comedian” or “blue comic” is a comedian who usually performs blue, or is known mainly for his or her blue material. Blue comedians often find it difficult to succeed in mainstream media. Topical musicians may use blue comedy both in their commentary between songs and in the lyrics to their songs.

Blue sky thinking describes ways of thinking about a subject or dealing with a problem that are new and original but may not always be practical. Big picture thinking, beyond the fine details.

Blue day vs blue sky
Ironically a good weather day is referred to as a clear day, that helps separate it from a ‘blue day’. Shame, as a blue day to me seems quite a positive bonus!



That’s it for Chasing blue. I hope you have enjoyed my travels through the world of blue. Next stop is Blazing Yellow as I travel through the history of Yellow. Hope to see you there!

MISSED PART 1 > Click here >

MISSED PART 2 > 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