Indian yellow

/ in • dee • uhn   yel • low /

font size:  a  a  a

History of Indian yellow:

Since ancient times in the Far East, Indian yellow was introduced into India from Persia in the fifteenth century. The amateur painter, Roger Dewhurst, recorded the use of Indian yellow in 1786. He noted, in letters to friends, that it was an organic substance made from the urine of animals fed on turmeric and suggested that it should be washed to prepare it for use as a pigment. Its source remained a mystery for many years. Mérimée, in his book on painting of 1830, didn't believe it was made from urine, in spite of its odor. George Field believed it was made from camel urine.

It was not until 1886 that the Journal of the Society of Arts in London embarked on a systematic inquiry of the pigment known as purée of India. An investigator began his search at Calcutta. He was sent to Monghyr, a city in Bengal. There, he found a small group of cattle owners who fed their cows on mango leaves and water. The cows' urine was a bright yellow. They were extremely undernourished as they only received normal fodder occasionally. Other Indian dairy cattle farmers of the same caste despised these 'colormen' and limited their production. They were reportedly producing one thousand to fifteen hundred pounds of the pigment per year but the investigator doubted the production figures when he saw the small number of cows involved.

Indian yellow was used in both oil and watercolor painting. It was favored for its great body and depth of tone. It had a peculiar characteristic in watercolor for it faded in artificial light and in the dark but was fairly stable in direct sunlight. In 0il, it dried slowly, as it required one hundred percent for grinding; the addition of varnish improved its drying. It could be mixed with all other pigments but in oil its lightfastness was improved when isolated between layers of varnish.

Law prohibited the production of Indian yellow in the early years of the twentieth century. Wehlte adds that its departure may have been due to the Indians for whom the torture of sacred animals was against their religion. It also may have been due to British laws that prohibited cruelty to animal

When was Indian yellow used?

Discovery Used until
15th century 1883