A timeline of pigment.

Hover over a pigment circle and find its name, data and, for some, story. Be patient. The hover takes a second. NOW, click and drag the center node, or any of the nodes, if you'd like to play.

Pigments are arranged by hue. The ancient pigments are at the center, synthetic organics are on the outskirts.


Each cluster represents a period of growth, the thick branches take you from period to period.


The goldstandard for pigment are brightness, longevity, low price and non-toxicity. Look for groudbreaking evolutionary moments toward this goal:


Prussian Blue, 1724; The first synthetic inorganic pigment and a precursor to the explosion of colors brought about by the Industrial Revolution.


Mauve, 1863, a coal tar colorant and the first synthetic organic colorant. Marked the origin of organic chemistry. Enabled the inexpensive, non-toxic paints of today in a broad sprectrum of color.


Quality is the remaining question. “The natural paints aren’t perfect...and that’s the point,” says Aidan Hart, a New Zealand icon painter. Pouring some chemical pigment onto his palm “All these crystals are the same size, and they reflect the light too evenly. It makes the paint size less interesting (than if you used real ochre) from a stone.”(This from the book Colour: A Natural History of the Palette.)