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Gamboge is the color described on pages 80-81 of Kassia St. Clair’s wonderful book, “The Secret Lives of Color”. She describes it as a bright yellow that Winsor & Newton produced from 1832 to 2005.

I opened the book randomly, as is my habit, to discover the history of a paint color that I frequently use. According to St. Clair, William Hooker, the Royal Horticultural Society’s botanical artist, mixed it (Gamboge) with a little Prussian blue to produce Hooker’s green: the perfect color for painting leaves.”

I used a lot of Hooker’s green mixed with other colors in my painting, “Green Life.” I very rarely use paint straight out of the tube, so you see variation of greens that I mixed as I painted this 18”x24” acrylic on canvas.

In addition to its luminous color, Gamboge was recognized in the nineteenth century as a stool softener. The workers at Winsor & Newton who handled the hardened sap of the Garcinia tree made frequent trips to the loo! I hope that the unintentional de-tox program was beneficial to the people who were probably exposed to toxins while making art materials.

Leilani Norman

Author Leilani Norman

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