Chemical Description: Synthetic iron oxide
Pigment Number: PR101
Lightfastness Rating: ASTM I
Pigment Opacity: Opaque
Paint Opacity: Opaque
Mars Violet is a modern term given to the dark violet synthetic reds made during the early 20th century and up to today; but a natural version of this color has been used since antiquity.
The clays that make this violet colour were always very rare compared to other natural iron oxides and it is not until Greco-Roman times that it is commonly seen in art. The Latin name for the color was Caput Mortuum, which literally translates as ‘the head of the dead’ and probably refers to a belief that it is similar to the colour of blood in corpses. Despite this macabre name it has been a well-liked pigment whenever it has been available because it extends the range of earth colors into the violet range.
During the Renaissance and until the 20th century it was often included within all the dark reddish iron oxide colours that were darker than Venetian Red and was also called Indian red. The rarity of the deepest violet versions of the pigment were relegated to a very minor role in art until the 20th century, when their usage expanded as the synthetic versions came on the market. While it is still not used in as great a quantity as other red oxides it has a unique color that proves very useful for artists.
For a start it is the perfect color from which to make the natural color of lips. No other pigment is as perfect for that job. It can also be useful for the earthy violet colours, which can sometimes appear in skin tones under certain light conditions.
The dull earthy nature of this violet is surprisingly useful for landscape artists too. It is the ideal base from which to make the dusky colors found in may flowers or in evening landscapes when moody reddish violets envelop the earth. Mixed with White and Ultramarine, it makes the perfect muted mauves that are common everywhere in nature due to atmospheric effects. Since Mars Violet is absolutely permanent it can be used in all techniques with confidence. Realistically Mars Violet is used almost exclusively for making violet colors but considering it is a one trick pony it sure does that one job extraordinarily well. Those artists who only use earth colors plus Cobalt Blue, Titanium White, and Mars Black find also that Mars Violet becomes one of their most useful colours. That is because violets are so common in nature. Mixing Mars Violet with Cobalt Blue gives beautiful deep royal purples and the admixture of Titanium White will then reduce it to an infinite variety of soft mauves. Warmer reddish violets come from mixing with a soft pastel yellow like Naples Yellow Light or with Permanent Light Violet. It sounds very simple and it is, yet this can be enough to get the myriad soft violets in a Hans Heysen landscape oil painting or the distant hills of a Namatjira watercolor.
Those artists were capable of pure poetry in paint and Mars Violet is capable of all the poetic subtlety required for such artwork.
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