Week 3 – Collecting Chrome Yellow

Apr 03, 2020

Welcome back everyone! 

I’m back to my research this week. I’m starting to look at more specific dates and places that different pigments were used in history. The plan is to create a map of usage for each of the five pigments I mentioned last week, starting with chrome yellow. Right now that means sorting through a lot of papers, often looking for only a line or two saying that chrome yellow was found to be used in Claude Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillere or whatever other piece the paper is analyzing. For each entry, I am trying to find the title, artist (if possible), pigment use, date of creation, and location of creation. While pigments can be used in many things, I am mostly looking at their use in traditional artist materials, such as oil paints. For example, one entry for chrome yellow is: 

Screen capture of an entry in my data set.

Once I get enough entries, I will do more research to find where they were created and/or at what time to know where to put them on my final map. This includes a lot of staring at maps for hours on end. Because of all the changes in the boundaries and/or names of nations over time, I have to do some estimating. If the description of a painting says it was created in India as a part of the Akbar school of art, I have to find where that school of art was located and find the most detailed approximation of the artist’s location, since that description does not describe a region whose name is still in use. I would instead choose a point within that region where the piece was most likely created for my map, but keep the original name in the description. 

Because of all the different research I have to do for each entry, this is quite a time-consuming task. It takes multiple days to get through even one color and I have to do this for five.​

For a little more history of chrome yellow:

I mentioned in a previous post that all of the five pigments I chose to study were toxic, and this one is no different. Chrome yellow is composed of lead chromate (PbCrO4) or solid solutions of lead chromate and lead sulfate (PbCrO4 · PbSO4). Not only does it contain lead, but its other main component, chromate, is also highly toxic.

Chrome yellow can come from two sources: the natural source, a rare mineral called crocoite, was discovered in the eighteenth century. It was initially called Siberian red lead because of where it was discovered. Its use as a pigment didn’t start until the beginning of the next century when the chemist L.N. Vauquelin discovered a synthetic method of production. It grew in popularity from there until the mid-1970s when health concerns caused a significant decline in usage. Nevertheless, the pigment can still be found today.

That’s all I have for this week. Until next time!

One Reply to “Week 3 – Collecting Chrome Yellow”

  1. Alan Y. says:

    I’m excited to see the maps of usage you create! Good luck with all of the colors!

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