The history of pigments goes back to prehistoric times, but much of what we know about how they relate to the art world comes from Edward Forbes, a historian and director of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University from 1909 to 1944. Considered the father of art conservation in the United States, Forbes traveled around the world amassing pigments in order to authenticate classical Italian paintings.
The pigments in the Forbes collection come from all over the world, and some are stored in their original delicate glass containers.
Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it continued to be used by painters. Dug right out of the earth and shaped into sticks with knives, hmeatite chalks were ready for drawing. Natural red chalks, with their rich, warm color, were popular from about 1500 to 1900. Such artists as Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Antoine Watteau used this medium to produce some of the most coveted drawings in the world today.
The name chromium was given to the element because so many colored compounds can be produced from it. As early as 1809, chromium oxide was being used as an enamel in porcelain factories, but it was not yet used as a painting pigment. It is sometimes used to make lightfast paints when mixed with yellows. In the past it was used in automotive finishes and to make bank notes.
Manganese oxide minerals have been used for thousands of years by the ancients for making pigments and to clarify glass. Named in 1827 from the Greek for "fire" and "to wash," because it was used to remove brown and green tints in the making of glass. In 1844, pyrolusite was used by LeClaire in Paris to develop a better zinc white for oil. Zinc oxide was ground with poppy oil that was made fast drying by boiling it with pyrolusite.
Yellow ochre is a natural mineral consisting of silica and clay owing its color to an iron oxyhydroxide mineral, goethite. It is found throughout the world, in many shades, in hues from yellow to brown. The best brown ochre comes from Cyprus. Used throughout history, this permanent pigment can be safely mixed with other pigments. Synthetic yellow ochre, Mars yellow, have been made since the early 1920s. Today, synthetic yellow ochree is used extensively by the paint, plastics and other industries.