Synthetic yellow pigments at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, 1800 to 1822
Conference poster for: "Art and Chemistry: Colour",
Janet Brough, Royal Pavilion, Libraries
and Museums, Brighton, UK
tel: +44 (0) 1273 292747 fax: +44 (0) 1273 292871
Société de Chimie Industrielle,
16-18 September 1998, Paris
Rich colours were an important feature in late 18th and early 19th century
European aristocratic interiors. Many of these schemes have been subsequently
lost. The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, created between 1785 and 1823 for
the son of King George III, is one of the surviving buildings. The exotic
interiors, although somewhat fragmented, have also survived, and in recent
years analytical studies have been made of the actual pigments used for
the decorations. The Prince Regent (later King George IV) and his designers
made full use of new yellow colours made available by recent rapid advances
1: Rapid use of
new synthetic pigments
use of colour
uses of lead oxychloride & chrome yellow in the Royal Pavilion
to patent yellow & chrome yellow in contempary accounts of the Royal
of yellow pigments used in the Royal Pavilion
1: Rapid use of new synthetic pigments
Rapid increases in chemical understanding during the 18th century led to
the discovery and production of many new pigments. Knowledge of these discoveries
spread rapidly within the European scientific community of the period,
irrespective of the country of origin. Dissemination of these ideas must
have been assisted by language skills shared across frontiers. Latin, Greek
and French were all at this time part of a pan-European tradition of elite
education. Sir Humphrey Davy, in his paper of 1815 on ancient pigments
, was able to refer not only to specific Latin
and Greek texts, but also to recent papers published by J.A.C. Chaptal
in the 'Annales de Chimie'. Production of new colours in various locations
throughout Europe rapidly followed this new scientific understanding.
Rival nations anticipated these new colours would play a commercial
role in the burgeoning industrial production of consumer trade goods. In
1809, Louis Nicolas Vauquelin wrote that only twelve years after his successful
isolation of the metal chrome, the new pigment, oxide of chromium was already
in use at porcelain factories in Sevres and Limoges .
Although the most important market for pigments was perceived to be
an industrial one, interior decorators were also surprisingly quick to
utilise colours that allowed new aesthetic possibilities. Lead oxychloride
(or Turner's Patent Yellow, as Carl Wilhelm Scheele's new pigment of ~1770
became known in England) and Chrome Yellow (first produced between 1797
and 1809) were both used by decorators and wallpaper manufacturers working
on the Royal Pavilion soon after their invention. These artists and designers
had reason to welcome the availability of two new bright clear yellow pigments.
Figure 1: The Yellow Drawing Room, circa 1818, as shown in Nash's
views of the Royal Pavilion
2: Theories of harmony
According to aesthetic and pseudo scientific theories of the early 19th
century, strong yellows were important in the production of harmonious
effects (in combination with other strong primary colours). It was even
hoped that universal laws of colouring could be discovered analogous to
laws of music, language or science; the decorator David Ramsay Hay wrote
Strong bright reds and blues were already commercially obtainable in practical
quantities, but until the advent of Patent and Chrome Yellow, a sufficiently
intense yellow to balance the use of these was not available. Those known
in the middle of the 18th century were either not bright enough, not available
in sufficient quantities, were toxic, faded, or were not useful in both
oil or water-based paint.
||The harmonic ratios operate upon them
(colours) ... as distinctly as they do upon the notes in the scale of the
musician; and if these ratios were properly studied, it would enable the
student in art to impart, with perfect certainty, harmony to his works.
3: Matching antique colours
At this time there was also a revival of interest in the use of strong
polychromy due to the continued discovery of the remains of brilliant colouring
on many revered classical monuments. Davy, for example, wrote in 1815 on
the colouring in the Baths of Titus in Rome :
Figure 2: Detail of Roman wall painting, Pompeii
||The decorations of the baths were intended
to be seen by torchlight, and many of them were at a great elevation, so
that the colours were brilliant and the contrast strong.
The new brilliant yellows answered a real need, offering an opportunity
to match the colour systems of antiquity; Davy himself regarded their qualities
as superior to those of the classical times they were intended to emulate:
This interest both in classical colouring and theories of harmony contributed
to the early 19th century fashion for intensely coloured rich interiors
, of which the Royal Pavilion at Brighton is
a fine example.
||of the colours, the discovery of which
is owing to improvements in modern chemistry, the patent yellow is much
more durable than any ancient yellow of the same brilliancy; and the chromate
of lead ... is a much more beautiful yellow than any possessed by the ancients,
and there is every reason to suppose, is quite unalterable,
4: Chinese use of colour
The interest of George IV in the art of China provided other reasons for
the use of yellow. If any universal laws of colour harmony did indeed exist,
all polychromatic traditions, not just those of classical antiquity would
need to be included in such theories. Colour systems used in non-European
cultures were at that time also a source of inspiration, and considered
worthy of study. Gottfried Semper wrote  that
Writers who had visited China commented on their use of bright yellow in
colour schemes; William Alexander, in a description of 1804 ,
writes of a pagoda with:
||a polychromy rich and brilliant prevails,
which had not been considered with that attention it deserves in relation
with the ancient style of polychromy.
Figure 3: Peking (Collection Royal Pavilion, no 000736)
||a projecting roof, covered with tiles
of a rich yellow colour, highly glazed, which receive from the sun a splendour
equal to burnished gold.
Bright yellows were therefore an important part of the polychromatic
tradition of China, and any building influenced by the Orient would have
to include them. Symbolic use of colour within Chinese cosmology also gave
yellow special prominence as the synthesis of the principles of Yin and
Yang, representing balance, adulthood and reason, with brilliant, clear
yellow designated as the colour for the Emperor. This must have been known
to George IV's first decorator in Brighton, John Crace, who owned 14 books
on China, including recent information from Lord Macartney's mission of
Figure 4: Fragment of handpainted Chinese export wallpaper with
yellow background, Royal Pavilion
Such significance attached to yellow would also have echoed the beliefs
of George IV concerning the status of royalty. The type of yellow used
in parts of the Royal Pavilion is even described in the accounts of the
artist Robert Jones as a 'rich chinese imperial yellow' .
The new yellows were therefore quickly utilised by the decorators at
the Royal Pavilion in accord with contemporary aesthetics and royal taste.
The final rich and brilliant form of the building would not however have
been possible without the contributions of the 18th century chemists to
the palette available.
5: Differing use of lead oxychloride & chrome
yellow in the Royal Pavilion
It is noticeable that bright yellow only becomes a major element within
room schemes in the last decorative phase at the Royal Pavilion, by which
time chrome yellow had become available . Patent
yellow seems to have been used earlier, but only in details, brilliant
though these are. The earliest sample of Patent yellow found to date dates
from a scheme of 1815, although there are references to it in written accounts
Figure 5: Kylin figure
Figure 6: detail of scales painted in patent yellow on Kylin
Figure 7: Dispersed yellow pigment from Kylin figure in transmitted
Chrome yellow is mentioned in painting accounts for 1818, and in the
paper hangers accounts ~1821, and samples have been found from the period
Figure 8: Chrome yellow in paint fragment from window frame
of Bow Rooms
Figure 9: Dispersed chrome yellow pigment, viewed in polarised
6: References to patent yellow & chrome yellow
in contemporary accounts of the Royal Pavilion
6.1: Crace Accounts (decorators) 
1802: 'pattent yellow and other expensive colours' (location not specified),
1818: 'chrome yellow and other expensive colours' (location not specified),
1819: 'light chrome yellow' (yellow drawing room), page 106
6.2: Robson and Hale (paperhangers) 
1821?: 'fine yellow chrome' (Bow Rooms wallpapers)
1821?: 'crome on satin green', 'crome yellow dado' (King's apartments
Figure 10: Block-printed wallpaper (Robson & Hale); Bow
Rooms, upper wall
Figure 11: Dado paper (Robson & Hale); King's apartment,
6.3: Extracts of Accounts (Robert Jones, decorator) 
1822: green mineral and yellow chrome tints, highly varnished (for woodwork
in the King's apartments)
7: Identification of yellow pigments used in the Royal
7.1: Patent Yellow
South Galleries, Kylins (1815, executed by Frederick Crace). Identified
by polarised light microscopy, confirmed by electron beam microanalysis
(X-ray fluorescence) and X-ray diffraction analysis.
North Galleries, canvas Upstands (1815, executed by Frederick Crace).
Identified by polarised light microscopy.
7.2: Chrome Yellow
Bow Rooms wallpapers (Robson and Hale, paperhangers, hung ~1822). Bow Rooms
window frame (Robert Jones, decorator, ~1822). Identified by polarised
light microscopy, confirmed by electron beam analysis (X-ray fluorescence).
The author is grateful to the following, for their assistance in analysis
Peter Mactaggart of 'Mac and Me' who provided assistance
with pigment recognition using polarising light microscopy
Ashok Roy of the National Gallery, London who carried out
electron beam micro-analysis and X-ray diffraction analysis
 Davy, Sir Humphrey, 'Experiments and Observations
on the Colours used in Paintings by the Ancients', Philosophical Transactions
of the Royal Society vol 105 p97, Written in Rome Jan. 14, 1815, read
 Harley, Rosamond, Artists' Pigments c. 1600-1835,
Butterworths, pp85-, 2nd ed. 1982.
 Hay, David Ramsay, The Laws of Harmonious
Colouring Adapted to Interior Decoration, Manufacture and Other Useful
Purposes, 6th edition, 1847.
 Gage, John, Colour and Culture, Chap 1, Thames and
 Semper, Gottfried, 'A Fragment on the
Origin of Polychromy' (bound with an extract from the report of the committee
appointed to examine the Elgin Marbles in 1836, Transactions of the
RIBA): RIBA Library.
 Alexander, W, The Costume of China,
W. Miller, 1804.
 Aldrich, Megan (ed), The Craces: Royal Decorators 1768-1899,
p14, Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery and Museums, Brighton, 1990.
 Accounts for the Royal Pavilion, quarter ending 5
Jan 1822, Public Records Office, LC11/34.
 Bristow, Ian, Architectural Colour in British Interiors
1650-1840, and Interior House Painting; Colours and Technology 1615-1840,
pub. Paul Mellon and Yale University Press, 1996.
 Typescript of ledger Entries from the Books of Messrs
Crace and Sons, Collection of Royal Pavilion.
 Accounts for the Royal Pavilion, Public Records Office,
 Abstract of Accounts for the Royal Pavilion, p73,
10th October 1822.
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