A great article about a museum collection of the pigments in artists’ paint tubes, preserved for posterity (more pix at the link). From Atlas Obscura.
One of the lesser known collections at the National Gallery of Art lies behind an unmarked door in the employees-only section, where conservators have amassed an unrivaled hoard of 21,000 paints, varnishes, pigments and primers.
Drawers of samples of dried paint on glass slides – photo by Elliot Carter
Neatly sorted inside rows of ordinary looking file boxes sits a near comprehensive snapshot of four decades of commercial art store offerings. This painterly treasure vault is officially known as the Art Materials Collection and Study Center, and it’s the largest of its type in the world.
The collection is impressive not only in its scope, but also for its institutional foresight. Nothing like this has been attempted in the past, and it will no doubt be a goldmine for conservation researchers in the decades and centuries ahead. The collection has already proved itself prescient, as numerous items are no longer in production, or they exist on the market with different chemical formulations.
The effort was launched back in the late 1970’s by Zora Pinney, who owned an art supplies store in Santa Monica. As Pinney saw various beloved lines and brands drop off the market she began to sock away her own Noah’s Ark of paints. Pinney wasn’t planning on ever using the tubes of paint, but she knew the research value in maintaining access the the precise materials used by artists at the time.
A few jars of paint on the table, with thousands more behind – photo by Elliot Carter
Detail of painted glass slides – photo by Elliot Carter
The boxes are organized by brand and color – photo by Elliot Carter
A vivid artificial yellow – photo by Elliot Carter