From the Reading Corner: Treasures of the Imperfect Past

In the course of my job I get the pleasure of treasure hunting through old historical texts on painting materials and methods. For an established paint-geek like myself, this is pure heaven, especially when uncovering an insight or finding a gem to be gleaned from all those past experiences. Every now and then, however, I come across something that is – shall we say  – of a more curious nature that can certainly raise an eyebrow or two. The following is one that caught my eye the other day and thought I would share. It is an excerpt from Robert Dossie’s Handmaid of the Arts published in 1783, and found in Storm,  A. “Eighteenth Century Paint Materials And The Painters Craft As Practiced In Louisbourg” 1982, (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Canada) :

To make a drying oil to make any color that is mixed with it, dry quickly:

Add two ounces of litharge of lead to a quart of linseed oil (though some use red lead) powdered very fine, and boil it for near an hour in an earthen pan, or till the oil be grown fat, or almost of the consistence of molasses, then set it on fire with a lighted paper, keep it stirring while burning, which need not be above a minute or two, then put out the flame, and let it stand till it be thoroughly cold, and that the litharge has settled well to the bottom; then pour off the clear oil, and put it in a bladder, close tied up for use. “

Well, some things in the 18th century are really best left in the 18th century.

And I hope it goes without saying, don’t try this at home. Or anywhere else for that matter.

4 thoughts on “From the Reading Corner: Treasures of the Imperfect Past

  1. It’s amazing that some of those early artist lived as long as they did with the concoction they brewed. If you have any more art antidote or info keep them coming. Thanks, looking forward to them.

    • Thanks Gene! Yes it is amazing that they managed to ever make it to old age when you read about these things. Or even that their artwork managed to survive. And I will definitely plan on sharing more of the quirks and interesting stories I come across..

  2. What color is Levi’s, Wrangler, etc. blue, I’m stuck in a painting and can’t find the right Blue……I checked out Ultramarine, Colbalt, Thalo, Cerulean, and others, could it be Indigo ( which I don’t have) please answer ASAP ?????

    • The blue you are seeing is Indigo. In the Williamsburg line you could try our Indigo, which is a traditional recipe meant to replicate that shade. Another choice is to look at the new Indanthrone Blue we just came out with. It was originally created as a lightfast substitute for the fugitive Indigo, but is much stronger and ‘inkier’ than the blend.

      Hope that helps!

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