Lecture "Black versus Brown Inks: Identification, Chemistry and Treatments"

User menu

Thursday, 8 July, 2021 - 15:00

Instructor: Han Neevel, Senior Research Scientist/ Chemist, Cultural Heritage Laboratory of the Cultural Heritage Agency of The Netherlands in Amsterdam

Date/Time: 8 July 2021 - 3pm – 4pm (GMT)

This online presentation will cover the history, appearance, chemical composition, manufacture, and identification of black and brown inks. Conservation treatments and associated dilemmas will also be addressed. Special focus will be on logwood inks, iron gall inks and other media.

Black and brown inks, i.e. black carbon/ soot ink, iron gall ink, logwood ink, bistre and sepia, have played an important role in the history of mankind as a means of expressing information, either in writing or drawing. Logwood inks were used by 19th and 20th artists such as Vincent van Gogh. In 1847, Runge introduced the black chrome-logwood ink as an alternative to iron-gall ink, because the latter attacked steel writing nibs. Due to the profitable trade in importing logwood from Haiti, chrome-logwood ink became the cheapest and most widely spread black writing ink in France. This could explain why Vincent van Gogh, during his French Period, used it for writing and drawing instead of iron gall ink.

Special focus will be on logwood inks, as they were applied by 19th and 20th C. artists e.g. Vincent van Gogh. Throughout his career, van Gogh experimented with a wide range of inks for drawing, including iron gall ink, logwood, oil-based printing inks, diluted with turpentine, and purple inks, containing synthetic dyes. While most of the drawings, as well as the letters, he made in the Netherlands contained iron gall ink, most of the French drawings and letters were conducted in chrome-logwood ink, as the results of the research showed. The reason for this change is linked to the fact that this ink type was more popular in France, since logwood could be cheaply obtained from Haiti, its former colony.