Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Tonight I am going to write about alizarin, well sort of. I don't use alizarin anymore and neither should you. I will come back to that.

Alizarin is one of several pigments that were derived since antiquity from the madder root. Madder was the source of the red that colored the coats of the British "new model army" that is, the famous redcoats. The ancient Egyptians used madder dyes.

In the 1860's German chemists developed a way to synthesize the red pigment in the lab. For over a hundred years alizarin served as the artists standard cool red pigment. However it was always problematic. Alizarin had permanency problems and had a bloody, blacky undertone. It was a more powerful pigment than the Rose Madder that was its natural counterpart. Rose madder, rare and expensive today was a common enough pigment fifty years ago ago. Rose madder was roseate in hue and had a lovely warm undertone that the alizarin didn't.

In 1958 Dupont developed quinacridone. It was a permanent, weather fast color that was used as an industrial coating and on cars. It was first used, to my knowledge, by artists, as permanent rose. Perhaps fifteen years ago artists began to convert to permanent alizarin, that is quinacridone. It is a great improvement, it has some of the roseate color of rose madder and the great pigmenting strength of alizarin. It comes in a range of colors through red to red-violet to violet.

So if you are still using the real alizarin (it will just say alizarin on the tube) you should switch to the permanent alizarin. It does cost as little more , but it isn't a color you will go through quickly. In return for that small investment you will get far better handling, clearer and more rose like color and permanence.

You might want to try permanent alizarin and permanent rose or quinacridone red (which is what I use) and decide for yourself which best suits you. As long as you are buying from a quality manufacturer and not buying a student grade it shouldn't matter too much which brand you buy.


Dot Courson said...

Seems I also read that some are reporting problems with blotchy areas on the canvas where alizirin isn't drying well- drying slower, I think. Just remember hearing advice to buy the genuine ...or leave it alone.
So, basically I've been avoiding it for the past year or more based on bad vibes from shaky memories, (apparently)... so thanks for grounding me with some facts. Thanks!

mariandioguardi.com said...

I was taught to use true alizarin when I started painting. It takes even longer than quinacradone to dry. it did dry blotchy and boy am I glad that I only used it on student work. I switched to the quin. reds and magenta. they are all great but if you don't use a drying medium you have to be aware of the slow drying times.

I also purchased, years ago, a very small tube of genuine rose madder. Nothing compares to that for the color of beautiful rosy cheeks in a portrait. I think anyone who is serious about portrait painting needs to have a tube in their arsenal.

It's a good thing to learn all your reds and what they do when mixed with greens and what they do when mixed with white. they all have particular characteristics.

Bob Carter said...

Most of today's alizarin substitutes are, indeed, based on one of the quinacridone reds (e.g., PR202, PR207, PR209). Rembbrandt's "permanent madder deep", which is my alizarin substitute, is an exception, being pyrrole rubine (PR264). Unlike true alizarin, which is transparent, the Rembrandt substitute is semi-transparent, which doesn't bother me because I don't glaze. It's a nice mixing pigment of medium strength and appears to be very lightfast. It's a Series 3 paint, so the price is not too awful. It's something to consider if you're shopping around for a permanent alizarin substitute.

Bob Carter said...

Rose madder (NR9) is a lovely color, if (as Stape says) you're married to a thorasic surgeon. Being a natural pigment (from the root of the madder plant, rubia tinctorium -- don't you just love that name?) it is not just alizarin, but also another pigment called purpurin and who knows what other minor colorants. I know at least one professional artist who has both rose madder genuine (W&N's name) and alizarin on his palette, because of the subtle color differences. Madder, however, is also not permanent. Some sources rate it above alizarin, and others about the same. I would guess it has a lot to do with the source and the manufacturer.

Barbara said...

I enjoy and learn from many of your posts, but your color series is something I will consult for years or probably just memorize. I've already shared your information with two other painters. Thank you so much.

Unknown said...

Stape, thanks for the useful commentary on the different paints. It has reinforced some things, as well as taught me some new stuff.

I am still interested in a CA workshop too, but probably couldn't make it up north to Napa. If you do a So Cal one, I will sell a kidney (not mine) to be there.

James Gunter said...

When I said to a non-painting friend of mine that I use Quinacridone, they quipped, "I thought you couldn't get that without a prescription!" Now I tell people that I'm using quinacridone to help break my alizarin habit.

I've seen charts demonstrating how badly alizarin crimson fades when exposed to sunlight, but has anyone had experience with alizarin fading out of their painting (or anyone's painting, for that matter), as long as its not hung in direct sunlight?

Richard J. Luschek II said...

I will admit it, I still use Alizarin.
I have tried the other stuff, but I never like it as much as the real deal.
I have had none of the problems nor have I noticed any fading.
I will have to try some others to see if I can break the Alizarin habit.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have been very happy with the quinacridone and a lots of trouble with the real alizarin.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I love rose madder. I used to use it a lot, but I can't afford it and worry about its permanence.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for that. I find rubine to purple ruby colored, but it is a good reliable pigment. The rose madder sat right on the line of permanency.Also it was REALLY expensive but had low pigmenting strength.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I am plotting a so-cal workshop too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jim; it has other problems too. There is such a good substitute that I don't use alizarin at all anymore. Problem solved.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Richard; We were all taught to use alizarin, But it always had a bloody, blacky color that I wanted to be more like rose madder.

Unknown said...

I am really loving your color posts... I was just wondering, uh, what's with the poultry inseminator photo? LOL

Confused me so badly I had to log in and ask!

Fi - WhereFishSing.com said...

Just also wanted to add my voice of thanks for this series of posts on colour. It's both a great resource and an enjoyable read. Thanks!