printed on Giclée Hahnemühle German Etching
Creating colour pigments has always been a tricky process, and before the late 18th Century, green was a particularly difficult hue. That was until Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a new pigment that was closer to a true green than any other, and much cheaper to manufacture. Scheele’s Green was immensely popular. William Morris swore by it, Napoleon had his bedroom plastered in it, and the most fashionable folks adorned their bodies with clothing in this brilliant shade. They even had it in food colouring. There was only one small flaw in this emerald city, Scheele’s Green’s main component was arsenic.
The Victorians were well aware of this, as well as the deadly effects of arsenic, they just did not care. So heady was their love affair with this new innovation that it was not the blistering, boiling skin of ladies in emerald dresses, factory workers vomiting green water, or even dozens of people dying from eating green sweets at the same banquet that phased it out. It was the simple fact of fashion moving on. This strange episode in art history begs the question – Just because it’s new, is it necessarily better? At what costs do innovations come at?