Paint Discoveries

Many months ago a photographer friend, Jamie Dunn asked if I might be interested in some old paint and brushes, which had belonged to his grandmother. They dated from the 1930s onwards and are objects of desire in themselves. Tiny little travel tubes of Winsor and Newton, ideal for plein air painting. Some had dried, and some were tight shut. But after some coaxing most offered up their contents.

Vintage paints

I was particularly interested in the Raw Sienna, as I once heard genuine supplies of clay could no longer be had for love or money. Sadly it didn’t look like not a usable tube – immersing the tube in unrefined linseed had the desired effect of softening the rich colour to a paste, but scraping the tube brought some lead deposit out in a darkening grit that contaminated the paint. Lesson learnt!

1930's Vs 2010's Yellow Ochre
1930’s Vs 2010’s Yellow Ochre



I moved on to the Yellow Ochre, which had been perfectly sealed. You see a stark comparison between the older colour – a lighter yellow and the Old Holland modern equivalent. The texture is fine but fluffy, whereas the new paint is buttery. I sometimes indulge in it to make up a little Paynes Gray, but there’s barely a few beans of the stuff.

In the haul along with a sharp Chrome Yellow, Windsor Violet and Lamp Black, I have a few half tubes of Alizarin Crimson to play with. For me, the jewel in the crown was a half tube of Genuine Vermillion. I covet it so much I usually hide it away and I haven’t actually used it since the self-portrait, Sacrifice, was completed at the start of this year. I have to accept I’ve hidden it far too well this time ☹

3 comments on “Paint Discoveries”

  1. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I
    will be waiting for your next post thank you once again.

    1. Hi,
      You cannot buy Chrome yellow paint nowadays as it is a resticted lead pigment. If this is genuine chrome yellow guard/use it wisely and don’t get it on your hands/eat it. SImilarly for genuine Vemillion (mercuric sulphide).

      1. Hi Carolyn

        Thank you for your expert advice; it’s a warning well worth heeding. Older pigments can be much more dangerous than modern ones.

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