Alizarin crimson

I keep wondering why so many professional artists use alizarin crimson?  

I know that until recently, Mark's standard palette used alizarin crimson as the red.  It's a beautiful pigment and I understand that the modern PR83 has better permanence and lightfastness than the original formulation, but still is not as good as other red pigments.

Since most paintings are going to be displayed indoors, and since there are so many UV blocking varnishes, why not go ahead and use the modern alizarine crimsons?  


  • Tradition mainly I think..
  • It might be that AC plays very well with other colors
  • It is also dirt cheap compared to the Cadmiums that a lot of people seem to use as reds, where AC is not being used.

    I have been surprised at the number of people using AC also.  Mostly the ones I have noticed do landscapes, and I just wondered to what extent it works in that world, where there is a lot of dirty color.
  • I find Quinacridone crimson (PV19 / PR179) is very close to Alizarin. I use it for mixing darks in landscapes - mixed with phthalo green it makes an almost black. I also use it to darken and warm more vibrant pure greens like Cadmium green. I don't really need Alizarin.
  • @tassieguy who makes the one you use?  

    I've been using the Permanent AC,  PR177 anthraquinone, some and it seems to work pretty well.  Most of the time, though, I try to stick to Mark's primary palette.  
  • edited August 2021
    Hi, @mstrick96. I use a brand called Langridge. It's made here in Australia. I started using it because, when I first joined the DMP forum, Geneva paints weren't available in Australia. I understand they do ship to OZ now but I've gotten used to Langridge which are also excellent quality. They don't do Alizarin but their substitute, Quinacridone crimson (PV19 / PR179),  is very close to Alizarin in terms of its base colour and mixing properties. I couldn't do without it. 
  • edited August 2021
    Your original question was why so many professional artists use AC.  Here is an answer for you, but it begs the question, why does he use AC?

    The most common link among pros who use AC in landscapes, is a reference to Kevin MacPherson's 4 color palette.  The four color are Cad Lemon, AC, Ultramarine Blue, and white.
  • dencaldencal -
    edited August 2021

    I keep wondering why so many professional artists use alizarin crimson?  

    The accidental discovery of mauve and the later discovery of alizarin by William Henry Perkins revolutionised manufacturing, organic dyes and the pharmaceutical industries. The dyes were stable and consistent to produce. Read the biography of Perkins in the book Mauve.  AC replaced the fugitive and expensive madder lake for artists.

    Extract from Jackson’s web page

    So, why does genuine alizarin crimson still hold such an appeal? Despite concerns about its permanence, it is still available in many professional oil and watercolour ranges, often as well as a permanent alternative. It could be partly that the pigment connects us to art history – it evokes the transparent glazes of madder that we see in paintings that hang on the walls of our national art museums. It is also unique as a mixing colour. Its particular depth of colour, transparency, and tinting strength make it an incredibly useful colour in an artists palette. It is not as bright as other cool red artist pigments, such as the modern quinacridone pigments, and makes uniquely deep, muted mixtures.

  • The extract from Jackson's is interesting, @dencal. I gather from it that the only difference between it and Quinacridone is that Alizarin is less bright and so more muted mixes are possible with it. By "bright" I take them to be referring to it's chromatic strength. If so, then one could get the same colour with Quinacridone by greying it/lowering it's chroma with its complementary. I use Phthalo green for this. I have some W&N Alizarin which I would use but I'd rather use the same brand (Langridge) for a cool crimson because I have become familiar with Langridge's pigment load, texture and mixing properties. And I know that Quinacridone is permanent whereas there is a question mark in respect of Alizarin's permanence.  
  • Rob

    Great that you have a combo you are comfortable with. For me the Q and Phth are a bit strong and I waste paint and time fighting against strong pigments. The only AC I buy is PAC.

  • PR264 (as Mark uses) is a good choice.
  • Greying it, won't that mud it up?  Also, whatever reason people use it in restricted palettes, that won't work with the mix. 
  • edited August 2021
    I don't always use a restricted palette for landscapes. I add a few power colours and the earth colours. Powerful colours like the Phthalos and Quinacridones usually need to be calmed down a bit with their complement. I find this is essential for landscapes. These colours used at full strength or with just white look unreal. But I need Phthalo green and blue to hit the colours I see in the natural world around me. And when I want to "grey" a colour I don't use black from a tube. I use chromatic blacks made with the colour's complement and these blacks don't muddy colours like regular black. When Mark talks about muddying up or milking up your colours he's generally referring to getting white in colours where it shouldn't be. 
  • Milky yes, but mud is just what you get when you mix the three primaries, which in the case of some AC is just adding a yellow tinge.  Nothing wrong with mud or dirty colours, they are all over the place.

    The approach you are using was covered here for anyone else who wants to hear more.  I am more like DMP in that I use basic colours and then may have to add hotter colours to capture certain things.  But Ian gets into using hot colours and then bringing them down, different approach.  Feels like an outside in , vs inside out.  I like his teaching and his colour matching, but not always his paintings.  Good book also.

    Chromatic blacks seem to be the hot thing in landscapes all of a sudden.

  • edited August 2021
    For deep shadows in landscape paintings chromatic blacks just look better/more realistic than black from a tube. If we look carefully at any landscape, the shadows we see are always coloured. They can be warm or cool but they will always have colour. 
  • edited August 2021
    I use Alizarin as the main mixing red because it's easily available and a good color. But I also use PR122 sometimes. I guess it's just the mindset that this is the best mixing red that's easy to get. But I use it so little that my present tube is five years old!
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