If modern paint companies’ pretentiously-named color palettes gall you to the point of an exclusively black-and-white existence, the Harvard Art Museums’ Forbes pigment collection will prove a welcome balm.
The hand and typewritten labels identifying the collection’s 2500+ pigments boast none of the flashy “creativity” that J. Crew employs to peddle its cashmere Boyfriend Cardigans.
Images by Harvard News
The benign, and wholly unexciting-sounding “emerald green” is —unsurprisingly—the exact shade legions of Oz fans have come to expect. The thrills here are chemical, not conferred. A mix of crystalline powder copper acetoarsenite, this emerald’s fumes sickened penniless artists as adroitly as they repelled insects.
Look how nicely it goes with Van Gogh’s ruddy hair…
“Mummy” is perhaps the closest the Forbes collection comes to 21st- century pigment naming. As Harvard’s Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Narayan Khandekar, notes in the video above, its mushroom shade is no great shakes. The source—the resin used to seal mummies’ bandages—is what distinguishes it.
The collection’s crown jewel is a rich ball of mustard-y Indian Yellow. This pigment comes not from maize, nor earth, but from the dehydrated urine of a cow subsisting exclusively on mango leaves. I’m drawn to it like a moth to the living room walls. I’m sure Benjamin Moore had his reasons for dubbing its urine-free facsimile “Sunny Days.”