A note on Prussian blue in nineteenth-century Canton

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Bailey, Kate;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 57, Number 2, p.116-121 (2012)


The use of Prussian blue in nineteenth-century Japan has been extensively researched, particularly in relation to the ‘blue revolution’ in ukiyo-e prints but its use by Chinese artists has not received the same degree of attention. A commodity traded by the East India Company, this pigment was used to ‘improve’ the colour of tea, but in or about 1825 the trade abruptly ceased. It now seems fairly clear that the cessation of the Prussian blue trade coincided with the setting up of a Prussian blue factory at the northern gate of Canton, and that knowledge of the industrial process was possibly acquired covertly from a London manufacturer. The pigment has been identified chemically among paint fragments collected during the dis-binding of an album of Chinese botanical watercolours sent from Canton to the Horticultural Society of London by tea inspector John Reeves between 1817 and 1830. This finding suggests that conservators should not exclude the possibility of finding Prussian blue on Chinese work dating from at least the early part of the nineteenth century.