Home Painting Recreating Rembrandt’s Color Palette with Fashionable Pigments

Recreating Rembrandt’s Color Palette with Fashionable Pigments


Rembrandt’s color palette was characterised by darkish browns and black, earthy yellows, and deep reds– colors that give his work an immediately recognisable ambiance of heat darkness. This text examines the pigments in Rembrandt’s color palette and explores trendy alternate options for a few of the pigments which might be not utilized by artists in the present day.


Artist Color Palettes in seventeenth Century Holland

Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn (1606-1669) was probably the most influential artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Versatile and proficient in several media, he produced etchings, drawings, and work throughout a number of genres, together with panorama, portraiture, and narrative topics. Throughout Rembrandt’s time, making paint was a laborious course of. Artists purchased dry pigments from an apothecary and made paints by hand utilizing a muller and a slab, a course of that required vital ability and persistence. A profitable artist would have employed assistants for this gruelling job. It was solely on the finish of the seventeenth century that artist paint specialists, often known as ‘colourmen’, started making paint commercially and promoting them to artists in pig’s bladders.

In the present day we have now the posh of readymade color, formulated to trade requirements and packaged in metallic tubes, at our fingertips. Regardless of this, the uncooked supplies that our paints comprise haven’t modified as a lot as we’d assume– numerous pigments we use usually would have been acquainted to Rembrandt and his contemporaries. Nonetheless, there are some pigment from Rembrandt’s color palette which have fallen out of use for quite a lot of causes, together with toxicity, impermanence, or poor lightfastness.


A Rembrandt self portrait with a typical warm and dark colour palette

Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn, Self Portrait (1658), Oil on canvas, The Frick Assortment. I like to recommend clicking on this picture to enlarge it and see the expressive brushwork in additional element.


Rembrandt’s Color Palette

The next palette is made up of pigments that, as far we all know, Rembrandt would have used. The pigments have been recognized by technical examination of Rembrandt’s work undertaken on the Nationwide Gallery, London.


Rembrandt's Colour Palette


A few of these pigments are nonetheless in widespread use in the present day:

  • Ivory Black, a carbon-based pigment produced from charred bone. In the present day it’s given the pigment index quantity PBk9.
  • Pure brown iron oxides. In the present day these paints embody Uncooked Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Uncooked Umber and Burnt Umber. Brown iron oxide pigments of earth-origin are recognized with the pigment index quantity PBr 7.
  • Pure yellow iron oxides, often known as Yellow Ochre. Paints containing the pigment PY 43 are made with pure earths that comprise yellow iron oxides.
  • Pure purple iron oxides, generally often known as Pink Ochre. This pigment has been used since prehistory and is assessed below the pigment index quantity PR 102.


Earth Colours in Rembrandt's Colour Palette

Earth colors on palette. These pigments had been staples in Rembrandt’s color palette.


Different pigments are, for numerous causes, not a part of most trendy artists’ palettes:

  • Smalt. A wealthy blue pigment made from floor cobalt-containing glass.
  • Stil de Grain. A yellow/inexperienced/brown lake pigment made utilizing dye extracted from buckthorn berries.
  • Vermillion. An artificial model of Cinnabar, a mercuric-sulfide-based mineral.
  • Pink Lakes reminiscent of Carmine or Rose Madder. Clear pink or purple pigments of both plant or insect origin.
  • Lead-Tin Yellow. A lead-based opaque yellow pigment.


Alternatives for Rembrandt's Colour Palette

Real pigments that Rembrandt would have used. The place essential these paints have been made utilizing samples of the historic pigments.


If an artist needs to make a Rembrandt-inspired color palette, which trendy pigments make efficient trendy alternate options to those historic colors?


Pigments like those that Rembrandt would have used

A number of real pigments from Rembrandt’s color palette.



Rembrandt’s Use of Smalt Blue

Smalt was a less expensive various to the costly mineral pigment Lapis Lazuli. We don’t affiliate Rembrandt’s color palette with the color blue, and that is partly as a result of Smalt turns into brown and translucent over time when blended with an oil binder. In consequence we have now misplaced the nuances of a few of Rembrandt’s Smalt-containing mixtures, which included mixes with yellows, earths, and black. In the course of the nineteenth century artists stopped utilizing it, preferring the trendy, extra everlasting blue pigments like Ultramarine Blue and Cobalt Blue that had been being developed on the time. The picture beneath is a swatch of real Smalt that I floor into linseed oil to make oil paint.


Rembrandt's colour palette

Handmade Smalt oil paint made with real Smalt pigment.


Real Smalt is a semi-transparent, gritty, heat blue with a quick drying time. It’s in contrast to some other single-pigment blue out there in the present day. Cobalt Blue (PB 28), a chemical descendent of Smalt, leans way more in the direction of inexperienced (though it does share a few of its granular properties). The deep-bellied blues like Phthalo Blue (PB 15), Indanthrene Blue (PB 60), and Prussian Blue (PB 27) are too excessive in tinting energy and too cool in temperature to be just like Smalt. Smalt is much more violet than Ultramarine Blue (PB 29), which is likely one of the warmest blues utilized by artists in the present day.

Nonetheless, there are a number of paints that purpose to recreate the historic color in oil, watercolour, and acrylic. Winsor & Newton’s Smalt (Dumont’s Blue) seems of their skilled oil and skilled watercolour ranges and makes use of the bluish-violet pigment PV 15. It’s a mushy, deep red-blue that I discovered very harking back to real Smalt. Golden Acrylics take a special strategy in recreating the historic pigment– as a substitute of a single pigment, they mix Ultramarine Blue, Carbon Black, and Dioxazine Violet for his or her Smalt Hue which is a clear, muted shade. One other various I attempted was Holbein’s Smalt Blue Gouache which, whereas a stunning color in its personal proper, lacks the depth and heat of the real pigment. Plainly they had been evoking the thought of the color, moderately than making an attempt to match it.



Everlasting Options to Real Smalt Blue:


No trendy blue pigments have the identical ‘gritty’ high quality as real smalt. Rembrandt used this attribute so as to add physique and texture to his paint. Oil and acrylic painters might add fantastic marble mud to their paint to emulate this impact:


Smalt colour mixing chart

A Smalt ‘hue’ made by mixing Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine Violet Acrylic in a roughly 50:50 ratio, blended with (from left to proper): Uncooked Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Perylene Pink, Pink Umber, and Ivory Black. Fantastic marble mud has been added to create a Smalt-like texture.


Stil de Grain – A Fugitive Glazing Color

Stil de Grain various from yellow, brown, and inexperienced relying on the ripeness of the buckthorn berries from which it was made. The soluble dye extracted from the berries was ‘laked’ (precipitated with an inert metallic salt) to make an insoluble pigment appropriate for grinding into an artist paint. Like different lake pigments it has a transparency that made it ultimate for glazing, however it’s not utilized in artist paints attributable to its poor lightfastness. This truth was well-known by artists in seventeenth century Holland. However, European oil painters continued to make use of it till the nineteenth century when way more dependable pigments turned out there. The next real Stil de Grain swatch is produced from unripe buckthorn berries, so it’s brown in masstone however turns into brighter and extra yellow in dilution.


Rembrandt's Colour palette: Stil de grain

Handmade Stil de Grain oil paint, made utilizing the real historic pigment.


Williamsburg, Maimeri, and Lefranc & Bourgeois embody a Stil de Grain hue of their oil paint ranges. These fluctuate in shade between brown, yellow, and inexperienced, reflecting the variations discovered within the real pigment. Some of the common alternate options is Williamsburg’s Stil de Grain, made utilizing artificial yellow earth pigment PY 42. It’s a superb various for the yellow-shade of Stil de Grain– yellow oxide pigments, whether or not artificial or pure in origin, usually have a brown hue in masstone and and are brighter yellow when diluted. Moreover, artificial iron oxide pigments like PY 42 could be formulated to be clear, matching the transparency of Stil de Grain.



Of the three alternate options above, it’s the Stil de Grain Inexperienced oil paint from Lefranc & Bourgeois that’s, to my eye, a very Rembrandt-esque color. Created from pigment PY 129, it’s meant to duplicate the greenish number of Stil de Grain. It’s a deep earthy inexperienced in masstone and shiny yellow-olive in dilution. When mixed in mixtures with colors that Rembrandt used it lends an earthy heat that could be very evocative of his color palette:


Stil de grain mixtures

Lefranc & Bourgeois Stil de Grain Inexperienced (PY 129) in mixtures with (from left to proper): Uncooked Sienna (PBr 7), Yellow Ochre (PY 43), Real Rose Madder (NR 9), Ivory Black (PBk 9), Real Smalt.


Lightfast Stil de Grain Options:


Many ranges provide pigment PY 129 below the title ‘Inexperienced Gold’, and these also can stand in for the greener forms of Stil de Grain:


Vermillion – Rembrandt’s Deepest Pink

Real Vermilion is a poisonous, deep orangey-red pigment utilized by Rembrandt and different Outdated Masters. It’s a artificial model of Cinnabar– a mercuric sulfide-containing mineral that was floor into pigment. Real Vermillion incorporates mercury and is probably dangerous to well being if ingested or inhaled. It was additionally vulnerable to blackening when uncovered to air. In consequence, when Cadmium Pink was launched within the nineteenth Century, Vermillion misplaced recognition amongst artists.


Rembrandt's Colour Palette: Genuine vermillion

Real Vermillion oil, nonetheless out there from Michael Harding


Paints named ‘Vermillion’ are widespread in artist paint ranges, however these variations use trendy orange-red pigments which are inclined to lack the boring earthiness of the real historic color. Whereas not excellent color matches, Cadmium pigments share the heavy overlaying energy of real Vermillion. Cadmium Pink Mild is a superbly clear and robust color that dances on the sting between orange and purple. It’s a lot brighter than real Vermillion however this might simply be tempered by mixing it with an earth pigment. Cadmium Pink Deep (PR 108) shares the dullness of the real pigment, however is extra of a bluish-red moderately than the orange-red that’s attribute of Vermillion.



Vermillion Options:

Real Chinese language Vermillion oil paint continues to be produced by Michael Harding.


Pink Lakes – an Important A part of Rembrandt’s Color Palette

Pink Lake pigments had been the one clear purple or pink pigments out there in the course of the Dutch Golden Age and had been, like Stil de Grain, derived from dyestuffs. Carmine was extracted from the cochineal beetle, whereas Madder was made utilizing the basis of the madder plant– Rembrandt used each in his color palette. Nonetheless, Pink Lake pigments are notoriously fugitive, so aren’t broadly used in the present day.

Pink Lake pigments various broadly of their color relying on how and the place they had been made (for instance, the extra calcium-rich the soil, the redder the pigment produced from the madder plant). Their transparency is what made them so helpful– they had been usually glazed over opaque orange-reds to make deep crimson.



Quinacridone pigments seem to be probably the most pure trendy successors. Launched to artists in 1955, Quinacridones are very lightfast, extremely saturated, clear, and well-suited to the glazing strategies utilized by oil painters. We are inclined to affiliate historic pigments with muted colors, however sure lake pigments are so vibrant they match as much as the depth of Quinacridones.



Different Pink Lake pigments are deeper and extra brown in hue:


Genuine rose madder pigment

Real Rose Madder (a browner selection)


Much like this shade is Alizarin Crimson, a chemical cousin of Pink Lakes. It’s a artificial lake pigment developed within the nineteenth century and, whereas it’s extra lightfast than the older lake pigments, it’s not as everlasting as trendy pigments (notably when utilized in glazes). You possibly can learn extra about Alizarin Crimson right here. Extra lightfast alternate options are Quinacridone pigment PR 206 or Perylene pigment PR179.


red lake alternatives

Attempting numerous Quinacridone and Perylene pigments in opposition to real Carmine and Rose Madder in my sketchbook. The colors within the third row seem to be one of the best alternate options to the real pigments within the first row.
Prime row: Handmade Rose Madder and Carmine watercolours
Second row: Daniel Smith Quinacridone Violet watercolour (PV 19) and Holbein Quinacridone Magenta watercolour (PR 122)
Third row: Roman Szmal Quinacridone Maroon watercolour (PR 206) and Schmincke Perylene Maroon (PR 179)
Backside row: Schmincke Geranium Pink watercolour (PR 242) and Winsor & Newton Real Rose Madder watercolour (NR 9)


Lightfast Pink Lake Options:

Most paints containing single pigment PV 19 ought to make good lightfast alternate options to the brighter, pinker Pink Lake varieties:


For the browner varieties, I like to recommend paints containing both PR 206 or PR 179 (keep in mind, nevertheless, that PR 179 is usually much less clear than Quinacridone pigments, so PR 206 is a more sensible choice for glazing strategies):


A few paint ranges nonetheless provide the real, non-lightfast pigment. Michael Harding’s Rose Madder is a muted, bloody purple, whereas Winsor & Newton’s Rose Madder Real is an especially shiny, cheerful pink.


Lead-tin Yellow – a Poisonous Yellow Beloved by the Outdated Masters

Opaque and funky, Lead-tin Yellow performed an necessary function in a lot of Rembrandt’s work, together with the one on the high of this text. Its lemony shade reduce by the final heat of Rembrandt’s color palette, creating glowing highlights. Because the title suggests, it’s a lead-based pigment that’s probably dangerous to well being if inhaled or ingested, however it’s unlikely that that is why it disappeared from artists’ palettes within the nineteenth century. The precise purpose isn’t identified, however it seems that it was step by step changed by Naples Yellow in the course of the 18th century, and the invention of Chrome Yellow on the flip of the nineteenth century considerably diminished demand for the historic pigment. The ‘recipe’ for Lead-tin Yellow was rediscovered within the twentieth century, however its expense and toxicity implies that it by no means recovered the recognition it loved among the many Outdated Masters. Nonetheless, it’s nonetheless out there as a part of Michael Harding’s oil paint vary.



Maybe the one trendy pigment that shares Lead-Tin Yellow’s coolness and opacity is Nickel Titanate Yellow (PY 53), a pigment developed within the Nineteen Sixties. This pigment is discovered throughout many oil, acrylic, and watercolour ranges. Right here it’s standing in for Lead-tin Yellow in some mixtures impressed by these recognized in Rembrandt’s work.



Beneficial paints containing Nickel Titanate Yellow:


The pigments that painters used mirror the world they lived in and Rembrandt’s color palette was topic to the supply of the time. Fashionable artists, by comparability, have entry to a far higher variety of colors. However we are able to be taught so much from the works of the Outdated Masters, and by inspecting the colors they used we are able to acquire a higher understanding of how they constructed their work. If any readers have any strategies for contemporary alternate options for out of date pigments please depart a remark beneath!



Additional Studying

Making Your Personal Oil Paint with Jackson’s Pigments

Pigment Tales: Ultramarine Blue and French Ultramarine

George Stubbs: The Artwork of Portray the Horse

Pigment Tales: Earth Pigments and Their Artificial Options


Store Pigments on jacksonsart.com



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