Indian Yellow is a vivacious color that can pop out of a painting. First used in traditional Dutch paintings, some say the creation of the pigment was originally produced in quite an interesting way. The word interesting, is actually an understatement of this production process. According to books, websites, and paint production companies, (such as Color: A Natural History of the Palette, Pigments Throughout the Ages, Golden Artist Color Paints) dedicated to pigment history, starting in the 15th century, and up until the late 1800’s Indian Yellow was said to be made from cattle urine. Cows, and sometimes camels or buffalo, would be fed a mixture of water and rotting mango leaves. Their urine would be collected, and then dried forming hard clumps that could then be mixed with a binder to create this familiar paint.
Luckily for the cows, in the early 20th century, this mode of production came to a halt. “…its departure may have been due to the Indians for whom the torture of sacred animals was against their religion. It also may have been due to British laws that prohibited cruelty to animals”* Since then, the pigment has been synthetically reproduced.
Some skeptics, like Livia Zanna, believe this piss product is a hoax. In her website, Zanna uses chemical reasoning to break the myth of Indian Yellow’s sticky history. She believes that it was probably produced organically, the juices from some (unknown) plant.
As for me, after studying the decline in Indian Yellow’s production, which almost came to a halt in the early 20th Century. I believe in the documented history. From pigments to perfumes, many synthetic products that we use today were originally made from an animal’s bodily secretions. Unfortunately for our furry friends, these were the materials people had to work with. As I further my investigations on pigment production, we will come to learn how humane these processes have really become, and what problems still sit heavily on the artist’s palette.