Indian Yellow

For years the ingredients of Indian Yellow were a mystery. Speculation abounded, many noted the smell and believed that it was the urine of camels or snakes. It wasn’t until 1883 that these rumours were settled about its origin.

Indian yellow was prepared from the urine of cows, fed only on mango leaves and made exclusively in the Indian village of Mirzapur. The yellow pigment was re ned from the liquid by heating and then pressed into round balls and dried.

A clear, luminescent yellow pigment, it was used by European painters from the 15th to the 19th century.

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A hard, mineral-like raw material, Gamboge is the solidified resin of trees native to South-East Asia.

The gamboge farmer collects the sap using a similar method to rubber extraction. A deep incision is made in the the bark of the tree and a hollowed-out bamboo tube is carefully placed beneath the cut.

Once hardened it can be ground to a bright yellow powder. Unfortunately, like many organic colourants it fades rapidly in bright light and now has very limited use in painting. 

The resin takes its name from Camboja, the old form of Cambodia which was the pricipal country of supply. It was used from the 8th century in Japan and China, and then in the early 17th C. the British East India Company started importing the colour into Europe.

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Mommia or ‘Mummy’, was exactly what its name implied – a rich brown pigment made from the ash and wrappings of mummied Ancient Egyptians!

Made from both animal and human remains, it was rst used in Europe during the Middle Ages, in the belief that it had medicinal qualities. This belief appears to have been based loosely on the ancient Greeks’ medical use of bitumen. The Persian word for bitumen was mum or mumiya, these words came to be applied to the bitumen that supposedly soaked the shrouded corpses. Eventually, the word became attached to the preserved bodies themselves. 

Mummy Brown began being used in painting from the 16th century but achieved its greatest popularity in the 18th to 19th centuries as a brown pigment with good transparency, used in oil paint for glazing and shading.


Botany Bay Gum

This red acaroid resin exudes from various species of Australian Xanthorrhoea grass trees and has been used in alcohol soluble varnishes for staining wood and metals a mahogany colour.

After a bush re has passed over the grass-trees the heat causes the resin to ooze out as small sphere-like exudations.

Historically, it was employed as a local alternative to imported resins used in sealing waxes and paper coating.

Its supply is now strictly controlled to prevent deliberate lighting of grass fires.