Henri’s analysis of Alizarin

Robert Henri, Mary Gallagher, 1924

Robert Henri, Mary Gallagher, 1924

One of the most difficult tasks for every artist is determining which pigments in their oil paints are permanent and can be intermixed. The science behind pigment permanency is not always clear. Much of our understanding of pigment permanency is derived from artists like Henri, who, through the centuries, have conducted their own experiments in order to develop a permanent palette in oils or watercolors and then pass this knowledge on to their students.

In the recent past, there have been chemists who have acted as authorities on pigment permanency, such as A.H. Church, “The Chemistry of Paints and Painting” (1890) and “Color: an Elementary Manual for Students (1907); Maximilian Toch, “The Chemistry and Technology of Mixed Paints” (1907), “Materials for a Permanent Painting” (1911), and “How to Paint a Permanent Picture” (1922); as well as some older names such as Jacques Blockx, and Winsor and Newton, both paint manufacturers. Ralph Mayer’s “The Artist’s Handbook” (1940) is a more contemporary analysis of artists’ paints. This type of research is crucial as the integrity of one’s work depends on the quality and permanency of the pigments. I use the Color of Art Pigment Database to determine how permanent a pigment is and whether there are any issues with mixing that pigment with others on my palette. Modern dyes, introduced in the 20th century, are often mixed into cheaper artists’ paint, affecting the lightfastness and the overall permanency of the paint.

Henri spent much time seeking a permanent palette that could be used with or without Alizarin Crimson. This pigment is very popular today as it was in Henri’s time. Although Permanent Alizarin was recently developed, this pigment is unlike the original Alizarin Crimson. And once you have used the original, replacing it with the pinker Permanent Alizarin is hard.

Henri used Alizarin Crimson briefly in his palettes focused on intensity in the early 1920s. When I experimented with these intensity palettes, I got addicted to Alizarin Crimson all over again and had to ween myself from its use. Note Alizarin tends to darken in contact with many pigments, such as Aureolin Yellow. I have seen artists work produced in the ’70s-’80s already darkened by the Alizarin coming in contact with pigments that it is incompatible with. I would urge all artists using this pigment to ensure their palette is archival by conducting the proper research. Henri later abandons using Alizarin for other pigments that are known to be permanent and can easily be intermixed.

Henri spent two-plus years researching and experimenting with pigment permanency to produce a document for members of The League of American Artists. George Bellows and H.G. Maratta also participated in generating this book for the League, Bellows as an editor and Maratta as an advisor. It was never published, as the League disbanded shortly after its completion.

Robert Henri Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Robert Henri, Artists Pigment Notebook, Box 25, f. 580, p. 5. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT. [Not to be reproduced for commercial purposes].

I want to share Henri’s permanent palettes that he developed through this research and experimentation with my readers. Henri ends the document for the League by providing two permanent palettes- a permanent palette safe with Alizarin and a permanent palette that does not use Alizarin. You may or may not be someone who uses Alizarin; either way, these palettes describe a series of pigments that are fully compatible.

The palette which may be used safely in conjunction with Madders and Alizarin:

  • Madders, such as Rose Madder
  • Alizarin, such as Alizarin Crimson
  • Mars Violet
  • Indian Red
  • Vermilion
  • Light Red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Umber
  • Cadmium
  • Viridian
  • Davy Grey
  • Ultramarine blues
  • Paynes Gray
  • Black
  • Zinc White

The palette which excludes Madders and Alizarin:

  • Indian Red
  • Venetian Red
  • Vermilion- cannot be used with lead white
  • Mars Violet
  • Mars Red
  • Light Red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Mars Orange
  • Burnt Umber
  • Cadmium
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Raw Sienna
  • Mars Yellow
  • Viridian
  • Davey Grey
  • Raw Umber
  • Mars Brown
  • Ultramarine Blues
  • Paynes Gray
  • Lamp Black
  • Ivory Black
  • Zinc white
  • Lead White- Henri notes there might be an issue with ultramarine and lead white

These palettes contain a more extensive array of colors than one would need. Henri indicates within his document that he would develop limited palettes that would be more practical for painting. From the second palette, Henri selects three possible versions:

Zinc W.- Vermilion- Cadmium- Ultramarine

Zinc W.- Vermilion- Cadmium- Viridian-Ultramarine

Lead W.- Indian R./or Mars V.-Venetian R./ or Bt. Sienna- Cadmium/ or Yellow Ochre- Viridian/ or Davey Grey- Black

Henri provides these limited palettes as suggestions for working palettes. Because each palette is permanent, the artist may choose any combination of the selected pigments to build his working palette. One is not obligated to choose those pigments that Henri has selected.

I hope Henri’s experimentation can provide some insight into the pigments you have already chosen to work with on your palette, or if there is a problem of permanency on your palette, you might be able to remedy the issue. Any questions about these palettes? Use the contact page to reach out.

A Gift

Judith Reeve, Grey Dawn, Winter, 16 x 22, oil on linen, 2023 (available in the gallery)

Oftentimes, I am overwhelmed by the marketing surrounding fine art. As a creator, I am constantly marketed to- to buy supplies, seek gallery representation, to attend seminars and programs to assist my pursuit of what I love. This unnerves me because the nature of my work is an act of devotion, a compulsion, a love and joy that overflows from my most inward self. How can I put a price on this? How can I relegate what has been freely given to me to a marketing plan?

What I ask, as a painter, is for the viewer to take in the thoughtfulness and the care I have poured into each painting and dwell there temporarily with me. Together we may pause, take in the view, and let our minds wander back to our dreams, our memories, and the silent dwelling place within ourselves. Delacroix called this shared interval the bond that allows us to communicate with another soul across time and space. When you look at the painting, you not only see the image, but you also reach out to the painter himself. There in that space, we meet and come to understand and empathize with one another.

Oscar Wilde believed that creativity is not a special gift given to the artist, but rather the artist has the temperament of receptivity. This attentiveness to things in the world is the gift. What do I desire as a human being? I yearn to be whole, transformed by insight, a thought, a small wisdom- unnoticed. Art gifts these things to us, reactivating and renewing our sense of wonder and awe for the world.

Judith Reeve, Isolated Barn, January, 9 x 12, oil, 2023

My disenchantment with “marketing,” the materialism of the art commodity, is that it ignores the gift- the uncommon labor required to bring the image to fruition. Not that what I offer as an artist is great or grander than your experience or lived reality, because my art is, in fact, drawn from the world we both share. It is a gift because it has been freely given to me, and I, in turn, freely gift it to you.

That spirit is the spirit of a gift- not the transaction of two commodities but the interchange of two mutual generosities, passing between people who share in the project of a life worth living.

Maria Popova, The Marginalian

Art is a labor that is hard to quantify. How do we, as a society, honor the artmaking process as worthy of financial support? The labor involved is intense, and the need for sustenance is real. It costs the artist not just monetarily but physically and emotionally to create freely. In the market economy, how do we reconcile our spiritual need for the artist’s gift and provide a means for the artist to carry on in their labors?

The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation…The gifts of the inner world must be accepted as gifts in the outer world if they are to retain their vitality.

Lewis Hyde, The Gift [This was quoted by Maria Popova in the Marginalian. She is an incredible writer with many insights into the human condition.]

I can’t provide any solid answers to establishing this mutual exchange of gifts beyond what is present now- purchasing a painting that allows you to hold the gift in exchange for the money to support the artist’s needs. All I can do is continue my labor of love and paint as best I can, all that I see and feel in this sensual world of immense beauty.

Postcard from the Field

I have begun a new project where I am sending my subscribers an image of a recently completed painting. Each image carries its unique painting practice- composition, palette design, and color choices. On each postcard, I will share some of my reveries, thoughts, or the emotional intent that lies behind the work impacting the painting’s creation. Join me in this new adventure!

Sign up now!