The colour green has long been afforded very different meanings, often opposing ones. Across the centuries it has been connected with abundant nature and youth, but also with jealousy, avarice and poison. During the medieval period the challenging process of creating a vibrant green pigment meant that it was both sought after by Europe’s wealthiest citizens and simultaneously mistrusted. The colour mixing process necessary for its creation was then deemed so uncouth that it could land dyers and colour makers with hefty fines and even exile.
For years alchemists struggled with copper compounds and plant-based greens, as well as deadly arsenic, until a synthetic pigment known as Viridian was patented by Guignet in 1859, replacing rather more expensive versions of the new blue-green hue. Taking its name from the Latin viridis meaning ‘green, blooming, vigorous’ this stable compound became a hit with the Impressionists and post-Impressionists, who sought to capture the abundant power of nature and utilise a vivacious palette that would not become muddied or darkened on the canvas.
“It became a hit with the Impressionists and post-Impressionists, who sought to capture the abundant power of nature”
Vincent van Gogh was a huge fan Writing to his brother about his 1888 painting The Night Café, he said “I sought to express with red and green the terrible human passions. The hall is blood red and pale yellow, with a green billiard table in the centre, and four lamps of lemon yellow, with rays of orange and green. Everywhere it is a battle and antithesis of the most different reds and greens.”
Georgia O’Keeffe was also known for ordering bulk supplies (alongside Flake White and Alizarin Crimson) from Winsor & Newton, all the way to her home in New Mexico. She used meticulous reference cards to produce the incredible images of flowers and desert landscapes for which she is world renowned.