Historical Pigments

The O’Donnell Institute, UT Dallas, and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art are currently collaborating on scientific study of a collection of historical painting pigments.

Detail sampling of a pigment. Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of Art
Red Ochre Morin, c.1922 Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of Art

Analysis of the Morton C. Bradley Historical Pigment Collection

The aim of this project is to characterize the approximately 300 pigments in the Morton C. Bradley, Jr. Historical Pigment Collection. The research will involve the application of a wide range of analytical techniques including sophisticated high-sensitivity instruments for major, minor, and trace element analysis in order to provenance the pigment materials used at different times.

The project provides an excellent opportunity to use novel analytical approaches to characterize pigments. The examination of the Bradley collection will provide vital information about availability, manufacturing and use of pigments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Morton Bradley, Jr.

Morton Bradley, Jr. (1912-2004) was a paintings conservator at the Fogg Art Museum from 1944 to 1950, and in private practice until 2004.

Morton Bradley, Jr.
Credit Stan Sherer

Upon his death a large historical pigment collection was discovered at his home in Arlington, Massachusetts.

The collection numbered close to 300 containers of pigment and medium, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

The importance of the collection is due to its size, pristine condition, the span of time over which the pigments were manufactured and sold, and the variety of makers and dealers.

About the Study

This study will illuminate not only trends in manufacturing, but also the types of materials available at different times and locations.

Mars and Venetian red.
Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of Art

Several colors were made for only a short time, providing a unique opportunity to analyze pigments during a moment of innovation and change. The collection is uncatalogued and virtually unknown.

The pigment collection is housed in two types of containers, a wooden or metal exterior screw cap tube that both contain large plastic vials of pigment capped with a cork top.

The exterior tubes are marked by a system of hash marks developed by Bradley; their meaning is a mystery. Many of the containers have original labels and notations listing where they were purchased, how much they cost and other information.

This project will characterize the pigments in the collection, and further work will document the associated information noted on the various vials, including information about the manufacturer, sample date, and the date, location, and price of purchase.

Jodie Utter, Paper Conservator, Amon Carter Museum of American Art