• Michael Skalka

Vermilionettes and Royal Reds

Updated: Feb 25



It is a humorous name for a group of colors. Vermilionettes and Royal Reds makes me think of the name of a big band from the 1930s. However, that is not the case. Vermilionettes were a group of colors appearing at the beginning of the 20th century that served as substitutes for genuine vermillion. Real vermilion, a combination of mercury and sulfur is found in a mineral called cinnabar. As with any ore, much labor is expended on refining and isolating quality materials that will produce the desired color. The crushed ore is subjected to the process of levigation to segregate particles of similar size and quality. The method of producing artificial vermilion provided a more uniform, consistent product than available from nature. It also allowed large quantities to be manufactured. Vermilion was a pigment know and used by Rembrandt. It provided touches of rich orange-red color with high opacity. It was an expensive color and was used frugally by Rembrandt.

Vermilionettes did not completely replace natural vermilion in the early 20th century. Art material manufacturers still supplied the pigment to artists well into the late part of the last century. Most mainstream manufacturers do not carry the pigment currently, but a few small volume paint makers do grind genuine vermilion in limited quantities and at surprisingly breathtaking prices.

Vermilionettes and a companion group of colors called Royal Reds, were a group of pigments derived from a dye called eosine. Eosine is a dye (a lake color) that is transparent but it mimicked the look and feel of true vermilion because in the manufacturing process, the eosine was precipitated on a base of orange lead. Orange lead is heavy and opaque, combined with eosine dye, it would have given all the outward appearance of a artificial vermilion. Different shades of Vermilionettes were made by combining barytes, orange lead, eosine and lead acetate. The Royal Reds were formulated with the same materials with the exception of the barytes. They seemed to have had many of the same working properties of vermilion. Unfortunately, in producing colors in this manner, they did not loose much of their toxicity other than being mercury-free.


As you would expect, they were not lightfast and not recommended where they would be exposed to a harsh outdoor environment. Like many other pigments of past generations, they are a reminder of the evolution of the color industry.


…So from high atop the ballroom of the Drake Hotel, in beautiful downtown, Chicago, we continue now with our musical selections from this week’s guest orchestra, The Vermillionettes and the unique musical styling of the Royal Reds………

The Syntax of Color

Orignal Grammar of Color Essay

Vol: 1 No.6 (Published 03-31-05)

(Edited 2016)

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© The Syntax of Color  SyntaxofColor  - Michael Skalka

United States