Gamboge, a closed chapter

Gummigutta gamboge

Once upon a time there was a color, extracted from the tree Clusiaceae, which was called gamboge. Unfortunately, the paint had poor lightfastness, it faded quickly in sunlight. Therefore, it was replaced as soon as a more durable color was invented, the replacement was cobalt yellow – aureolin (1848), consequently the color gamboge could have fallen into oblivion. But watercolor painters loved it because of its golden hue and high transparency. Therefore, the paint survived as a watercolor paint.

Later “new gamboge” appeared in the color charts, the color tried to mimic gamboge but with better lightfastness, it was made of all sorts of AZO pigments.

Gummigutta gamboge

The small pan is genuine gamboge, it is so transparent that it looks brown, the large pan is WINSOR & NEWTON New Gamboge PY 153. The color sample in the background is painted with genuine gamboge

Eventually, the paint manufacturers stopped supplying genuine gamboge, all switching to the new gamboge. Winsor & Newton lasted the longest but shut down production in 2005.

1963 was the year when the synthetic pigment Nickel Dioxin yellow (PY153) was invented, it had almost all the properties of genuine gamboge: almost the same hue, almost transparent, and it was lightfast. Soon, all paint manufacturers made their “new gamboge” from PY153, but the pigment industry ended production in 2012. so now the paint manufacturers had to come up with a new recipe for the paint.

gummigutta genuin
Genuine Gamboge
Notice the edges, only a transparent color can create these nice hard edges.
New Gamboge PY153 (LUKAS)
Slightly flat color with a beautiful hue

New Gamboge PY 153 WINSOR & NEWTON)
Has character and transparency but not like the original

All color makers nowadays mix the color of several different pigments: warm and cold yellow, even orange and red can be included. Some come close to the original while others are far from it. Everyone has the same problem: Transparency, because almost all yellow colors are more or less opaque, (there are a few transparent yellow colors, but they are not the correct hue for Gamboge) so the results are not very transparent, Some have succeeded quite well , though.

Some examples:

  • WINSOR & NEWTON: Transparent Yellow (Nickel Azo yellow) (PY150) + A little red in the form of Quinacridone PR209)
  • DANIEL SMITH: PY97 & PY110 Isoindoline (PY110 is one of the few transparent yellow pigments)
  • M. GRAHAM: PY151, PO62, semi-transparent and reddish
  • OLD HOLLAND: PY153, PY151
  • TALENS : REMBRANDT: PY150 PO48 Dirty and semi-transparent
  • LUKAS: still have PY153, if you like that color buy now before it disappears.

One should be aware that all so-called New Gamboge are just attempts to imitate a lost color, No one is genuine and all of them are different. If you find a favorite why not buy the two colors included in the mix and mix yourself, you get a much richer palette that way.

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3 years ago

I found Lukas PY 153 online , here in the US. Interesting enough , the Lukas brand is more affordable than DS even though is manufactured in Germany. Do you recommend to buy Lukas besides the PY 153? DS isn’t a problem, really, but I’m just wondering. Tack

3 years ago


1 year ago

I have a Sennelier PY153, it is named Sennelier Yellow Light. It is presented as transparent but to me it looks like it has some opaqueness.
Here in U.S. I saw the 21ml tube at Dick Blick. Half-pans, 10ml and 21ml tubes online at Jackson Art (UK but they deliver extremely fast to US).

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