- Pigment Numbers: PR122 PR170
- Lightfastness Rating: ASTM II
- Pigment Opacity: Transparent
- Paint Opacity: Semi-Transparent
- Series 3
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The predecessor of this color, Alizarin Crimson was first synthesized in 1868 and immediately became a hit with artists since these deep cherry reds are incredibly useful as mixing colors on the palette. Alizarin was developed from the coloring agents found in the root of the madder plant. Madder had been used from at least 1500BCE in ancient Egypt. It was too weak to use as a paint color but by using mordants it was able to produce beautiful reddish colors on cloth. Fragmentary examples from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome have survived showing its popularity while there is no surviving artwork with traces of madder which suggests that it was never used as paint.
There are often suggestions by historians that madder might have been used in the Renaissance for painting but there is little evidence for that beyond guesswork and confirmed examples of red lake pigments reveal that the red was from Kermes insects, also known as Lac. It wasn’t until 1804 that George Field developed a process for creating a paint pigment from madder. The synthetic alizarin came decades later when Perkins in England at virtually the same time as Graeb and Leibermann succeeded in Germany. Both parties filed to patent it and when they discovered their respective patents, it was Perkins who had to give his up as his filing was one day after the German patent. it is quite amazing that after such a huge amount of time of people using madder and trying to improve it, independent researchers in different countries had the same idea, did the same work, and succeeded within a day of each other.
Alizarin was first thought to be very permanent, although this proved incorrect in the long run, and its production and usage became a huge industry. Low cost and the beauty of the color ensured that its usage continued long after pigments of superior permanence became available in the 1930’s. It wasn’t generally realized how poor the pigment was until independent testing at the ASTM revealed that it was at best an ASTM III color which is considered to be unsuitable for use in artists paints. When acrylic paints became available from the late 1950’s manufacturers searched for alternatives that were more permanent but that had a similar deep crimson hue.
In the early days of Matisse acrylics Brilliant Alizarine (Crimson) filled the role played by the much less permanent alizarin crimson. Instead of slavishly doing what some competitors were doing, which was to make a blend that copied the genuine alizarin pigment that in some cases included adding a touch of black to the blend because alizarin is a slightly dirty crimson, Matisse created this clean bright blend and gave it its unusual name, Brilliant Alizarine. The color was intended to fill the same color mixing role as alizarin but without some of the drawbacks including the impermanence and the slight dirtiness that prevented some of the most delicate bright mixtures to be made. The color was a hit and has been loved ever since but we should step back for a minute and ask why it should be used in today’s world? It does have the drawback of being ASTM II but what does that mean in practical terms?
Both ASTM I and ASTM II are considered as durable and acceptable for permanent painting. It basically means that in normal conditions indoors a color will show little or no change in an 80 to 100 year time frame when used full strength. Those colors rated as ASTM I will have the same reliability even in very pale tints with white but the ASTM II colors may show some perceptible fading in very pale tints mixed with white. Matisse does offer excellent ASTM I colors in this color range such as Matisse Rose Madder and Deep Rose Madder both of which are superb alternatives but both colors are more expensive than Brilliant Alizarine and the artist on a budget will appreciate the excellent value for money of this color.
In many cases spending a little less gives you something less beautiful but in this case the color of Brilliant Alizarine is absolutely gorgeous.
Brilliant Alizarine (Crimson) is an intense cool cherry red that is beautiful used pure or enjoyed for its clean red undertone. Its usefulness as a mixing color, however, is its real glory. it is well suited to mixing the sorts of mauves and warm violets found in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. It can make deep violets and purples in mixtures with Ultramarine and other blues and browns and white produce the full gamut of violet possibilities from lavender to dusky rose to full on burgundy. Mix it with Pthalocyanine Green to produce luminous and transparent dark charcoal colors that move this way or that as you vary the green and red proportions or add a touch of Ultramarine Blue. Versatility is the hallmark of Brilliant Alizarine.