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Old 01-13-2007, 06:45 AM
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Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

I have toyed with the idea of trying out genuine vermilion (PR 106), as it is mentioned so often in books etc. The question is: is it worth it? One place I read words to the effect that "vermilion's unique shade cannot be replaced with cadmiums". A related question is: does vermilion darken/change colour in oil (I am not concerned with watercolour). I have read contradictory information about its permanence. I have a tube of Art Spectrum "Spectrum Vermilion" - (discontinued formula) - molybdated lead chromate (PR 104) - I got it around 20 years ago. Would this be similar to genuine vermilion? It's a scarlet colour with a slight dullness to it - rather unimpressive really. The toxicity of vermilion may be the determining factor.
Thanks, jim
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Old 01-13-2007, 09:07 AM
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Einion Einion is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by instantjim
The question is: is it worth it?
Quick answer: not really.

If, and I stress IF here, you can find a good example the pigment has some very nice properties but the simple fact is that thousands of artists, including many of the top painters in the world of course, don't use it and paint perfectly well, don't they?

Another issue, related to its high cost generally today, is that some examples are rubbish - more an earth-red colour than a true red; I don't know about you but I'm sure not going to pay top dollar for that!

Quote:
Originally Posted by instantjim
One place I read words to the effect that "vermilion's unique shade cannot be replaced with cadmiums".
If we assume that were an exact quote then it's nonsense, since in colour alone (masstone) it isn't special in any way; it was in its day but not today. It's more how Vermilion mixes with other pigments that it's valued by those that love it (primarily its tints with white I think*).

Quote:
Originally Posted by instantjim
A related question is: does vermilion darken/change colour in oil (I am not concerned with watercolour). I have read contradictory information about its permanence.
It can, yes. It turns to another basic form which is black, so you get significant darkening. But it's probably nothing to worry about, since it's relatively rare and the effect is often localised (just a small area in a given passage) so it does appear to be caused by unusual circumstances, rather than being a known failing that will always show itself like poor lightfastness.

Quote:
Originally Posted by instantjim
I have a tube of Art Spectrum "Spectrum Vermilion" - (discontinued formula) - molybdated lead chromate (PR 104) - I got it around 20 years ago. Would this be similar to genuine vermilion?
Being a different pigment it'll simply be different, regardless of any superficial similarity it may have. You can get two version of the same pigment that act quite differently

Quote:
Originally Posted by instantjim
The toxicity of vermilion may be the determining factor.
Well it is highly toxic, no two ways about it.

*And this may often be overstated too. See these threads:
http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=178979
http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=363115

This one is worth a look too:
http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=370339

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Old 01-14-2007, 07:51 AM
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Smile Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

Thanks for that detailed response and the links, Einon. I think I will give the vermilion a miss. I was wanting a red to mix with lead white for a cinabrese-like mixture (though I would not be using it with egg tempera, rather in oils). I put a post a few weeks back in the Portraiture Forum asking re: Skin Tone Palettes. My current palette is quite "out there" - working on complements; being PO 71 (a dull orange), indanthrene Blue, cadmium red light, oxide of chromium, zinc white and yellow ochre. I am going to try out a palette consisting of zinc/lead white, yellow ochre, burnt sienna (or red oxide - I haven't decided yet), a red to imitate vermilion, ivory black and rose madder (or similar bluish red). I will look at the selection of cadmium reds I have and see what works best.
Thanks again
jim
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Old 01-16-2007, 11:21 AM
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

Jim,
In my experience genuine vermilion is unique from the cadmiums, but only slightly and not necessarily "better". Certainly not proportionally to the extra money you'll spend. I feel it's slight differences from cadmium red would most appeal to portrait artists. However, don't expect to be blown away by it. Cadmiums are more pure hues, much less toxic, and cheaper. Remember, way back before all the nostalgia for "the way they used to do it" had set in, that when the cadmium reds came out artists were more than happy to ditch vermilion for the new cadmiums. I had the Holbein vermilions, which are not lightfast and I would not recommend them unless you just want to be familiar with the historic hues. If you really want to use genuine vermilion, get it from Michael Harding or Robert Doak. Doak's is a little more orange than Michael Harding's, but they are both excellent. Those two sources have also passed lightfast tests and are reliable compared to the Holbein vermilions. If you got the money to blow and are really curious, then give them a try, otherwise stick to the very reliable and beautiful cadmium reds.

Is the PO71 you have the Schminke Mussini Translucent Orange? It's a great pigment and paint which I recently acquired. I also have W&N Genuine Rose Madder which is more lightfast than Alizarin Crimson PR83, however it has a weaker tinting strength and a more delicate hue. Again, genuine rose madder would really appeal to the portrait painter. The closest color to imitate vermilion is Winsor and Newton's Cadmium Red or Cadmium Red Scarlet for the more orange shade.
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Old 01-17-2007, 02:45 AM
marmari marmari is offline
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

I have always been using "regular" red cadmiums and Alizarin Crimson. I am very curious about the Rose Madder and Vermilion though. I am definitely going to try Vermilion, I have to admit i really like my cadmiums though, they are from WN. And the Alizarin I use is called "Permanent Alizarin". However, recently the tube broke and its a big mess. It kills me how much the Lake madder, however genuine it is, costs. Jeez! And at it being a weaker tinting strength, one would think you could thin Alizarin with a medium and glaze away!!!
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Old 01-17-2007, 09:12 AM
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

Hi Brian, I just saw your thread in the oil painting section regarding the problems with Holbein Vermilion - most fascinating - I never would have expected such a rapid change! Isn't Vermilion supposed to be rated ASTM I for lightfastness? I will probably stick to a light shade of cadmium red (I used to work in an art store and stocked up in sales over the years and have a whole bunch of different colours). I would have to go out of my way to get the vermilion anyway, as none of the brands available locally have it in their range. The PO 71 I have is Lefranc "transparent indian orange" - which is a ridiculous name, but an outstanding colour (it's a bit like burnt sienna before it grew up and became toned down). I can get it for around $10 Australian ($7.80 US) - I guess much cheaper than the Mussini. I really used a lot of it when I was painting a series of whimsical fox paintings - a little bit of indanthrene blue PB60 gives a great fox colour and add enough of the blue and it looks nearly black. I think the rose madder is just beautiful! Luckily I picked it and a cobalt blue up for $9.99 USfrom ebay. I was so pleased when I read it was rated ASTM II for lightfastness in oil and thus better than its synthetic cousin Alizarin Crimson.
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Old 01-18-2007, 10:43 PM
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

There is a very interesting discussion over at the cowdisley group. George O'Hanlon pointed out this online article :How A Red Lady Becomes Black And White.

In a nutshell:
A small quantity of chloride in the red paint in the painting 'Portrait of a Young Lady' by Peter Paul Rubens in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague is causing the red parts of the painting to slowly turn black and white under the influence of light.

The mechanism that leads to the darkening of vermilion (mercuric sulfide) has been identified by Dutch researcher Katrien Keune at the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics.

George hastens to point out that "the presence of chloride in vermilion is unusual and is typically not a constituent of vermilion or used in the process to make vermilion (red mercuric sulfide). More paintings containing vermilion or the native mineral cinnabar are holding up very well and are not changing. This is not a typical phenomenon."

In all, it's a very interesting discussion.
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Old 01-19-2007, 10:19 AM
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

Interesting article Robert. However, the darkening of my vermilion samples was not the historically noted "black spots" but an over all consistent darkening and dulling of both the masstone and tints. So, I think this research is just a piece of the puzzle.
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Old 01-22-2007, 08:47 PM
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

AU Jim -- For your purposes, obtaining true Vermilion will be an exceptionally expensive business. I would suggest skipping it and continuing to enjoy your cadmiums.
My tests comfirmed Brian's on the Holbein Vermilion darkening (not blackening) due to exposure to bright sun. This is a problem specific to the pigment Holbein was using, and apparently they are looking into remedying the matter.
The historic blackening of Vermilion has been largely attributed to the effects of sulphuric paints -- yellows and lead -- which reacted to the Vermilion. There are currently no sulphur paints marketed, the last being L&B's Sulphur Yellow, discontinued just a few years ago. And the chemical formulation for Vermilion pigment was changed as well.
Personally, I love genuine Vermilion and use the Doak version. Someday I hope to try the Harding and Williamsburg versions. Everything said here is basically true about the similarity of the cadmiums, especially Red Light, or Red-Orange. But in mixes with earth colors such as Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, etc. and even many blues, the Vermilion has a distinct identity. Worth it for most people? Probably not.
If you have seen any of my recent large grid paintings over the last few months on the SP forum, I have used Vermilion in between either Cad Yellow Deep (or Orange) and Cad Red in the largest pieces. It works very well with those colors and you can see if the you like it in that application.
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Old 01-23-2007, 06:11 AM
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

Thanks for your input Gunzorro. I am interested mainly in using it as a part of my portraiture palette. I am pretty new to portraiture and am still settling on a palette that I am totally happy with. I will continue to keep an eye out on ebay for Williamsburg paints - and specifically vermilion (though they usually only come in lots of 20 or more tubes and sell pretty high - as I think you are already aware ). If I happen to see vermilion I will buy some try some and decide. Is the sulphur in ultramarine and cadmium sulphide "locked away" (I'm no chemist - I'm not sure of the correct term) Or in other words is it only elemental sulphur that will affect vermilion?
jim
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Old 02-11-2007, 08:36 PM
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

Iím new to oil painting and color so excuse me if my comment seems naive. Iíve read advise on this board given to those who ask if they should get certain colors (mainly expensive colors) because of their unique qualities. The advice almost always seems to be that one can live without these colors and you can easily approximate its hue with a specific mixture of other pigments.

This would be fine, if people used the colors straight of the tube. But, I dare say that the vast majority of artists/painters donít use the colors straight out of the tube. The point of these unique/expensive colors, is the different/unique hues one can achieve by mixing them with other colors that cannot be duplicated.

In my opinion, giving this type of advice, of telling someone donít buy that expensive color get it simply by mixing this with that color cheats new comers to the world of painting from experiencing some of these colors.

Just my opinion

Thanks
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Old 02-11-2007, 09:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bjr001
The advice almost always seems to be that one can live without these colors and you can easily approximate its hue with a specific mixture of other pigments.

This would be fine, if people used the colors straight of the tube. But, I dare say that the vast majority of artists/painters donít use the colors straight out of the tube. The point of these unique/expensive colors, is the different/unique hues one can achieve by mixing them with other colors that cannot be duplicated.
Other way around: mainly, it's actually the unmixed colour (masstone and/or undercolour) that can't be matched exactly by mixtures.

When it comes to mixtures containing two or more paints, especially more than two, you can often get the same colour - the same colour exactly - by more than one route*. And in context within paintings this kind of precision isn't necessary anyway.

A good illustration of this is to imagine two portrait painters - one doesn't use Vermilion while the swears by it and will often be heard to say "Irreplaceable!" Looking at their paintings without any clues as to which was which it would be impossible to know for sure whether you were looking at the work of the first or the second painter. A quick search on the name John Myatt should throw up some more of related interest.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bjr001
In my opinion, giving this type of advice, of telling someone donít buy that expensive color get it simply by mixing this with that color cheats new comers to the world of painting from experiencing some of these colors.
That's certainly true up to a point (although thorough reading of this thread gives many caveats) but if one adopts this principle wouldn't that mean that you need to buy a high-quality genuine Ultramarine instead of French Ultramarine? Real Naples Yellow instead of a hue?

*This may not be possible with a single palette, but it's definitely doable with the right alternative paints.

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Old 02-12-2007, 02:01 AM
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Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

I do agree that there is a certain inclination among some advisors to not overwhelm newcomers with the expense of certain colors, probably thinking it is better to get them started on the cheap, get hooked, then move to the more expensive series or unique pigments. I can understand this, and considering most people exploring into oils will try it once or twice and quit, it is fairly sound advice. But it does "cheat" potential oil painters from the beauty of special colors. By this I mean things like genuine Cobalt & Cerulean Blue and many Cadmiums, not to mention the more "exotic" paints like vermilion and Naples Yellow made by the top paint makers (big difference between a OH Cobalt and a Gamblin!). I suppose it is a judgement call, but I tend toward advising in favor of some expensive paints to newcomers.
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Old 07-26-2007, 11:35 PM
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Exclamation Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

Quote:
Originally Posted by instantjim
...does vermilion darken/change colour in oil... I have read contradictory information about its permanence. I have a tube of Art Spectrum "Spectrum Vermilion" - (discontinued formula) - molybdated lead chromate (PR 104) - I got it around 20 years ago. Would this be similar to genuine vermilion? ...The toxicity of vermilion may be the determining factor.
For more information on this topic, you should read the discussion about vermilion:
Vermilion and Cinnabar Toxicology Test Results

I will repeat a few paragraphs from this discussion:

Vermilion is not a fugitive color, but has a reputation for being lightfast. Vermilion (inorganic, red mercuric sulfide, PR106, Colour Index number 77766) is listed in ASTM D 4302 with a lightfastness category of I in oil and resin-oil.

Gettens noted, "it is remarkably unreactive with other pigments" (Gettens & Sterner, 1941). Some authorities in the past did not consider it a "permanent" pigment, because specimens have been known to darken. Numerous examples in paintings, nevertheless, testify to its stability, and samples have been observed to withstand exposure to sunlight for at least ten years (Eibner, 1926). Tests made according to ASTM D 4236 the standard for lightfastness resulted in rating it at the highest category of lightfastness.

The darkening observed in some specimens of vermilion has been attributed to impurities in the digestion liquor used to make vermilion with the "wet" process, which may lead to the instability of the red form of mercuric sulfide to revert to the black form. The native mineral, cinnabar, is not susceptible to such reactions. Rublev Vermilion from Natural Pigments is made in China with the "dry" process, which is known to make a stable form of mercuric sulfide (Gettens, 1993).

Some vermilion pigments have low toxicity, because the mercury is bound with sulfur in a compound that renders it practically insoluble in human tissues. However, I am surprised that you are concerned about the toxicity of vermilion when molybdate lead chromate (PR 104) is considered highly toxic, according to some references, although sources that I consider to be more accurate rate it as having low toxicity.

References
ASTM D 4302-99 "Standard Specification for Artists' Oil, Resin-Oil, and Alkyd Paints," Annual Book of Standards Vol. 06.02, American Society for Testing and Materials (1999).

(Eibner, 1926) A. Eibner, "Arbeitsumfang der Versuchsanstalt fŁr Maltechnik an der Technischen Hochschule zu MŁnchen," Technische Mitteilungen fŁr Malerei 42 (1926), 4-12.

(Gettens, 1993) Rutherford J. Gettens, Robert L. Feller, and W. T. Chase, "Vermilion and Cinnabar," Artists' Pigment, A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics Vol. 2 (1993) 159-181.

(Gettens & Sterner, 1941) R. J. Gettens and F. W. Sterner, "The Compatibility of Pigments in Artists' Oil Paints," Technical Studies in the Field of Fine Arts 10 (1941), 18-28.
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Old 07-26-2007, 11:46 PM
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Exclamation Re: Genuine Vermilion - is it worth it?

In response to your question whether or not genuine vermilion is worth it, the answer by any artist will be highly subjective. How much money is any art material worth its use? Vermeer certainly could haven chosen to use a less expensive blue (azurite), but instead chose to use the most expensive pigment in his time -- lazurite (lapis lazuli) -- even though his patrons did not specify its use in his work. The extra cost of this pigment was apparently worth it to him.

The answer depends on your preferences about color, paint body and a variety of factors that arise from its mixture with other pigments. My subjective opinion is that it is worth the expense, not because I sell it, but simply because its appearance in mixtures is very difficult to reproduce with other pigments.

How can you rely on anyone's subjective opinion anyway? The best way to answer your question is to try it and find out. If you do not find it is a valuable addition to your palette, you have not really thrown away good money, because the experience with this color is invaluable.
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Last edited by georgeoh : 07-26-2007 at 11:48 PM.

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