Outrageous Orange – PART 2




As we move through the radiant history of orange, the 18th and 19th centuries presented some juicy new orange pigments that played a pivitol role in radiating the vibrancy of painting throughout Europe. Chemists would offer new colours, brighter than ever before. New ideas in art were coupled with the new pigments and together the art world would never be the same. The 19th century would prove to be the starting point for a whole new thinking about how we see the world. Orange would play it’s cantankerous part, always trying to steal the spotlight, with grand disregard for the diare consquences that would reveal themselves years later. 


The reign of Orange continues

Oranges themselves became more common in northern Europe, thanks to the 17th century invention of the first ‘stove’ (heated) greenhouses provided a grand production centre for the illustrious orange fruit to became more common throughout northern Europe. The very name for this type of building would became known as an orangerie. 

The fruit earned itself a reputation as an icon of abundance. The colour was also associated with such wealth. 

Pomona (her name came from the pomon, the Latin word for ‘orchard fruit’), the goddess of fruitful abundance was often portrayed in orange robes carrying the fruit.

Left: Pamona by Nicolas Fouché (1700). Right: Portrait of a Lady as Pomona by Jean Ranc.

The story of Vertumnus and Pomona

Vertumnus the god of gardens and orchards, went to great efforts to woo the notoriously indifferent goddess of fruit trees, Pomona. Disguised as an old woman, Vertumnus lures Pomona into his trust with the story of a suitor who commits suicide, traumatised by the lack of attention from a beautiful, but intractable woman.

Vertumnus and Pomona by Jean Ranc (1710-1720).

This work painted by French artist Jean Ranc was significant in its time not only for its delicate treatment of the faces and exquisitely rendered fabrics but also for the manner in which it presents a mythological narrative and its moral subtext in an entirely contemporary manner, as indicated in Pomona’s radiant, silky dress and parasol.


Did you know…

The New York city skyline in 1653.

The Big Apple was once the Big Orange

In 1673,  the Dutch regained control of New York, during the second Dutch-Anglo war. Their leader, Anthony Colve rechristened the colony ‘New Orange’. Its official name for only a year, it was permanently ceded to the British under the Treaty of Westminster.


Chrome Orange

Crocoite is an orange-red mineral that was discovered in Siberia in 1792. It’s name comes from the greek word for the spice, saffron which is the same colour (See PART 1 of Outrageous Orange).

A sample of crocoite crystals from Dundas extended mine in Tasmania.

In 1797 French chemist Louis Vauquelin concluded that crochite (or lead chromate) contained an element not yet discovered. Calling this ‘chromium’ (after the greek word for ‘colour’) he discovered that the mineral transforms differently depending on its contact with an acid or alkali. 

If contacting an acid, it goes a deep yellow. When in contact with an alkali it transforms into a bright orange pigment.

Chrome yellow and Chrome orange were an outstanding addition to any painters palette of the time. A synthetic pigment called Chrome Orange became available from 1809. (See part 3 of Blazing Yellow)


An English love for Orange

In Britain orange was a favourite hue used by the Pre-Raphaelites and history painters in the 19th Century. Elizabeth Siddal, the red-haired model and the wife of painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, became the iconic symbol of the Pre-Raphaelite movement (1860).

Regina Cordium by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1860) was his marriage portrait of Elizabeth Siddal.

Lord Leighton, the president of the Royal Academy, produced Flaming June, a painting of a sleeping young woman in a bright orange dress. 

“Flaming June” by Sir Frederic Leighton, 1895.

English Classicist & Pre-Raphaelite Painter, Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893) painted festive scenes of Romans wearing orange cloaks brighter than any the Romans ever likely wore. 

Midsummer by Albert Joseph Moore (1887).

United in Orange

In the United States, Winslow Homer brightened his palette with vivid oranges.

Left: Oranges on a Branch (1885). Right: The New novel (1877). Both Watercolour on paper by Winslow Homer.

French impressions

The new orange became an important colour for all the impressionist painters too. Looking for a new way to capture the effects of natural light, orange became an important factor in the mix.

Artists eager to embrace the new colours incorporated them into their paintings.

Left: La yole by Renoir (1875). Chrome orange is used for the outlines of the boat. Right: Oarsmen at Chatou by Renior (1879).

Many of the impressionists were experimenting with new found colour theories presented by chemist and colourist Chevrel. These theories discussed the power of colour associations by French chemist, Eugène Chevreul in his book ‘Law of Simultaneous Colour Contrast’ stating that one colour would look it’s brightest when placed next to its opposite. This is why we see a pairing up of orange and blue in many of the impressionists art works. 

Post impressionist pitfalls

Always embracing the quest for radiant colour, post impressionist Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh was one of the greatest lovers of chrome orange and yellows. 

Vincent van Gogh said, “There is no blue without yellow and without orange”.

Ironically chemistry continues to deminish his dream of bringing colour to the world. While all chromate colours start off brilliant in their hue, the basic character of the pigment means it is also not very lightfast and the colours darken with age. At present, many of his works must be hidden away from the daylight in order to prevent the pigments he used browning and fading on the canvas. See Part 3 of Blazing Yellow for more on the story.

Left: Self-Portrait (1887). Centre: Willow trees at sunset, Arles (1888). Right: Old Tower in the Fields (1884) all by Vincent Van Gogh.


Cadmium Orange was part of the new range of metal colours discovered by German scientist Friedrich Stromeyerin 1817. The new metallic element happened when he was heating zinc in his laboratory. Cadmium colours were invented. These hues ranged from bright yellow, through to orange and red. These opaque colours contained a brilliance like never before and the impressionists harnessed these new colours with enthusiam. Cadmium Orange would soon replace Chrome orange in popularity in both oil painting and watercolour

While Cadmium Orange is radiant, as with all the cadmiums, it is highly toxic. Fine for but interior painting it proved problematic in exterior applications and in mural painting techniques due to its vulnerable to light and oxygen and the pigments would fade over time. It also had disasterous affects when combined with copper-based pigments.

See more about Cadmiums in Part 3 of Blazing Yellow

Impression, Sunrise (1872).
The painting that sparked the name of a movement. Monet used cadmium orange in the brilliant rising sun.


“Grainstack” by Claude Monet (1891) from the 1890 – 1891 series of Haystacks by Claude Monet.


Cobalt Orange

Very little is known about the use of this colour but it was the result of cadmium sulfide and cadmium selenide. It became one of the new synthetic pigments such as cobalt red and cobalt yellow (See PART 4 of Blazing Yellow) that was guaranteed to brighten any artists palette.


Lead- Tin Orange

Lead-Tin Orange is an artificial pigment made by heating lead oxide (PbO, PbO2, or minium) and tin oxide (SnO2) together. It is a reddish hue of lead-tin yellow, which frequently occurred in European painting before the 18th century.

Lead–tin orange in Indian Islamic glazes

Lead-Tin Orange has been found in glazes from five Mughal period (1526–1857) monuments in northern India. The orange glazes appear to be coloured exclusively by leaditin yellow particles. It was identifed that the orange coloured tiles were a purposeful part of the artistic composition and not an accidental variation in the tone of yellow tiles employed.

A detail of a tile mosaic panel from the Tomb of Shagird, Punjab. Orange-coloured tiles can be seen to be a deliberate part of the artistic composition and are visually easily distinguishable from their yellow counterparts.



Would you like a little radiation with that?

Before WW2 it was common for manufacturers of ceramic dinnerware to use uranium oxide in coloured glazes. The compound produced brilliant reds and oranges which were appealing attributes if not for the radiation they admitted.

At the time most were unaware of what radiation even was up until the late 1800s, including the associated cancer risks discovered much later. During WW2 the US government confiscated all uranium, dedicated for use in bomb development. But the US atomic energy commission relaxed these restrictions in 1959 and depleted uranium returned to ceramics and glass factory floors.

Orange dishes made during the next decade may still have some hazardous qualities on their surfaces to this day. Most notable vintage fiestaware reads positive for radioactivity. While the levels are low enough that they don’t officially pose a heath risk if they are on a shelf the US EPA warns against eating food off them.

That ‘Fiesta’ faze on the glaze

Radioactive ceramic range called Fiesta ware, produced by the Homer Laughlin Company of West Virginia. 

The uranium glaze is most frequently encountered in so-called “California pottery” of the 1930s-50s, a style featuring bright, solid colours evocative of Moorish tile.  The best-known example is Fiesta made by the Homer Laughlin China Company. Red Fiestaware contained natural uranium from 1936 to 1943, when wartime demand for uranium stopped production.  Production resumed in 1959 with depleted uranium and ended for good in 1972. Measurements have indicated that, up to 14% of the glaze can be uranium.

Original Fiesta ware adverts.



A Christie’s employee holds a Stradivari violin at Christie’s auction rooms in central London. The 1729 instrument known as ‘Solomon, Ex-Lambert’ sold for U.S $2.7million  in 2007.

The soul of the Stradivarius could be Orange

The violins made by the Italian master Antonio Stradivari are celebrated as the finest ever made, but the secret behind their perfect sound has mystified experts for centuries.

Stradivari was a renowned maker of stringed instruments in 18th century Italy, and 300 years later his violins can fetch $2-3 million at auction. There are many factors that build the mystery (and value) of these amazing instuments but one contributing factor might just be in the mysterious ingredients of Antonio Stradivari’s orange varnish. It is now believed that the orange varnish is what gives Stradivarius violins their exquisite sound.

Stradivari’s created his materpieces out of his workshop was in Cremona, northern Italy. This Cremona varnish is of a bright flame colour. Many a tourist has travelled to the area in search of the renown varnish, guaranteed to make a violin sing. You can go to one of the local pharmicists that will spin you the tale and sell you cups of shellac flakes, sandarac and wine spirit. They will tell you to crush it and melt it and then throw in some amber, myrrh and ash.

In 2009 a 12-person team led by Jean-Philippe Echard, a conservation chemist at the Museum of Music, used a combination of micro-Raman, micro-Fourier transform infrared, and X-ray spectroscopies to tease out the microchemical composition of five violins that span 30 years of Stradivari’s career in the late 1600s and early 1700s. The team found that Stradivari laid down a layer of linseed oil, similar to that used by artists of the time, to seal the wood, followed by an oil resin that contained red iron oxide and other common crimson pigments, also used by artists of that era.

These finds mean that the varnish used by the instrument maker was composed of widely available mundane oils, pigments, and resins. That, sadly the mystery is not in the varnish. While the beautiful orange brew, is great for a tourist tale, it appears that there was much more skill and expertise that went into the creation of these magnificent instruments that continue to be revered all around the world for their unique and masterful tones.



Don’t miss out on the final adventures of Outrageous Orange in Part 3. Technology takes over and Orange will make its most powerful performances yet as it takes centre stage in the 2oth century. Discover how artists such as Christo, Bacon and Whiteley used Orange to pack a powerful punch and why it will never let us ignore it.


Need to revisit PART ONE?



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 www.kristineballard.com
© Kristine Ballard 2020