Ackermann’s Superfine Water Colours

Ackermann’s Superfine Water Colours Photo Credit

Ackermann’s Superfine Water Colours were prepared and sold at Rudolph Ackermann’s shop, The Repository of Arts at 101 Strand in London, and through print and booksellers in Great Britain. He published a list of watercolor cakes that appeared in 1801 and was appended to A Treatise on Ackermanns Superfine Water Colours. The list contained instructions on preparing watercolor cakes in the following colors:

Ackermann’s Yellow
Ackermann’s White
Antwerp Blue—Prussian blue precipitated with baryte or aluminum hydroxide.
Azure Blue
Azure Green
Bistre—A brown pigment produced by charring beechwood.
Blue Black
Blue Verditer—A synthetic copper carbonate blue similar to azurite. It was made in numerous shades and had many familiar names.
Bone Black
Brown Lake
Brown Ochre
Brown Pink—A lake color made from Buckthorn berries. Despite the name, it was a color with a brown masstone but a bright yellow when tinted or applied thinly. The same color was sold as Still-de-grain, English Pink, Italian Pink, and Dutch Pink.
Brown Red
Burnt Carmine—A dark red variant of carmine (see below) but even less permanent than its parent pigment. After calcining, it was often mixed with Van Dyke Brown to get the richest shades.
Burnt Sienna
Burnt Umber
Carmine—A crimson red lake pigment that came into in the 16th century. The lake was made by extracting the secretion of the cochineal, an insect of Central America.
Carmined Lake—A variant of carmine (see above).
Calcined Vitriol—Copper sulfate is generally used in ink, textile, and hair dyes. The pentahydrate form is a very bright blue.
Carnation Red
Carbonic Black—Carbon black
Chinese Vermilion—A variety of synthetic mercuric sulfides made in China.
Cologne Earth—A peaty bituminous earth derived from a mine near Cologne, Germany. Also called Cassel Earth or Van Dyke Brown.
Crocus Martis—A dark reddish brown color made artificially from iron oxide.
Dragon’s Blood—A red gum from a Southeast Asian tree.
Dutch Pink—See Brown Pink (above).
Enamel Blue
Egyptian Brown—Most likely a bituminous substance made from ground mummies.
French Green—A copper hydroxide carbonate made by precipitating copper sulfate with potassium carbonate.
Gall Stone—A yellow lake that was supposed to be made from ox gall but was more likely to be quercitron lake.
Gamboge—A yellow gum from Southeast Asia. Its name is a corruption of the name Cambodia. One of the lightfast colors of the natural colored gums but poor compared to the best of modern organics and toxic.
Green Verditer
Green Lake
Green Earth
Indian Red
Iris Green
Ivory Black
King’s Yellow—A synthetic form of orpiment, arsenic trisulfide.
Lake—Any of several transparent organic red colors used in the Renaissance but principally at first lac, a resin secreted from an insect found in India. As brighter red dyes became available, especially cochineal, these were made by precipitating the dye onto a mineral base to make a color that imitated lac. So the name ‘lake’ became the meaning for any transparent dye-based color precipitated on an inert pigment base and valuable for glazing. Other paints often called ‘red lake’ include Dragon’s Blood (see above), madder, logwood, and brazilwood. Now only madder and cochineal are used only in small quantities. Madder is the most lightfast of them. Lac was the third most expensive pigment during the Renaissance behind gold and ultramarine, but it was considered worth it.
Lamp Black
Light Lake
Light White
Mars Yellow
Massicot—Another name for litharge, lead monoxide was also used as a drier for oil. It is used to prepare ‘black oil.’
Mineral Green—A bright green color made from synthetic copper carbonate resembling, but less permanent, than malachite.
Olive Green
Patent Yellow—Also called Turner’s Yellow, named after the inventor, this lead pigment was an impermanent but cheap color and, therefore, popular. Several versions were sold, from bright yellow to orange. It had a reputation for going black. The name is now used for various mixtures that are more reliable but superfluous.
Peach Black
Prussian Blue
Prussian Green
Red Ochre
Red Orpiment—Another name for realgar, the orange-red native mineral, is arsenic disulfide.
Raw Sienna
Rose Pink—A transparent pink lake popular in the Renaissance in which brazilwood (see above) and alum were precipitated onto chalk.
Royal Smalt—A common name for one of the dark shades of smalt. A glass frit made using cobalt was widely used in European painting after the 15th century and was popular until the development of artificial ultramarine. Still made in small quantities and available from specialty artists’ pigment suppliers, the last large commercial production of the color ceased in 1952.
Sander’s Blue—The name is a corruption in English of the French name for the color: Cendres Bleues. In English, the name was eventually further corrupted to Saunder’s Blue. This color is a copper carbonate similar to azurite and was also produced in a green variant.
Sander’s Green—A green variant of the copper carbonate version of Sanders Blue (see above).
Sap Green—A lake made from green Buckthorn berries that were always fugitive yet sold well.
Saturnine Red—A common name for red lead (lead tetroxide) in the centuries following the Renaissance, but during the Middle Ages, it was called Minium.
Van Dyke Brown
Violet Blue
White Lead
Yellow Ochre
Yellow Lake
Yellow Orpiment—The native mineral of arsenic trisulfide.

Rudolph Ackermann

Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834)

Ackermann’s Superfine Water Colour cakes were made from 1794 to 1827. Some cakes in collections today are not mentioned on the list. For example, Naples Yellow, which is, of course, a pigment known before the 18th and 19th centuries. It seems most unlikely that Ackermann would not have had it, although it does not appear in the 1801 list. Of course, it could have been added between 1802 and 1827, but this seems most unlikely since it was a traditional watercolor in the 18th century. Other 101 Strand cakes might have been added after 1801—for example, Payne’s Neutral Tint. William Payne would have been 41 years old in 1801, so possibly that color would have been introduced after that date and most certainly by the 1820s. It is not known what it was composed of initially, but Neutral Tints were usually a mixture of three primaries, such as Ultramarine, Sienna, and another color.

Apart from Ackermann’s colors, there are also watercolors made by Newman and Reeves. The colorman Lewis Berger & Sons (dry pigment suppliers) supplied James Newman and Ackermann. His Gerrard Street mark identifies Newman watercolors, as he was only there from 1781 to 1801. Newman was regarded by artists of the time as one of the best colormen, whereas Ackermann was known primarily as a retailer.

In addition to the colors on Ackermann’s 1801 list, Newman also made Light Red (also widely supplied in early Reeve’s boxes), Indian Yellow, and Red Lead, which are found today in a private collection of Gerrard Street cakes. Indian Yellow was in the Newman and Reeves range in the 1800 Gerrard Street cakes and later in the 24 Soho Square cakes.

The Newman Soho Square cakes are much more difficult to tie down datewise as the earliest Newman listing is 1859; by then, 97 colors were listed, including a range for tinting photographs (Harding’s Tints).

Mummy is most likely the same as Ackermann’s Egyptian Brown (101 Strand cake). It was not in the Newman watercolor range but in the oil color range in 1859.

There is no information about the composition of Ackermann Yellow.

Ackermann watercolor boxes were supplied with very few cakes, rarely more than 24, and thus were fitted out with the most popular paint pigments. The largest cataloged box was a Newman 45 cake box. Many of the costly boxes were made by cabinet makers; many with unusual designs were sometimes adapted from other applications, e.g., apothecary boxes were sometimes altered to take bottles or jars of paint.

Ackemann's shop in London in 1809.