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For a very long period, painters had difficulty handling the full range of dark blues. Whether to manufacture it, fix it, saturate it and especially use it on large surfaces, dark blue has remained a difficult to use color for a long time.

Origin of Prussian blue

It is the early 1700s (between 1704 and 1707), when a certain Johann Jacob Diesbach was trying to make Florence lacquer in a laboratory in Berlin. He used a different component from his usual recipe, and the result was unexpected to say the least. Instead of a crimson red, he first got an ocher color, which soon turned to a deep blue. It was the birth of the famous Prussian blue, which would soon spread throughout the globe.

History of Prussian blue

Although manufactured around 1706, the deep blue made by Johann took its name "Prussian Blue" only in the year 1709. And its chemical composition was kept secret by Johann and his collaborators until John Woodward discovered the recipe. of this dye and made it public in 1724.

The inventors of “Prussian Blue” did this in order to obtain maximum profits from this new color. And the least we can say is that it worked well, because everyone became very wealthy thanks to the popularity of “Prussian Blue”.

Chemical composition of Prussian blue

The composition of this color which was kept secret for more than 15 years is as follows:

  • Ferrous sulfate (6 parts)
  • Potassium ferrocyanide (6 parts)
  • Hydrochloric acid (24 parts)
  • Sulfuric acid (1 part)

After a few hours , chloride of lime is then poured into this solution. Then we purify all of the potassium ferrocyanide it contains using diluted ferric chloride . The Prussian blue thus obtained can now be allowed to dry before being used.


The expansion of Prussian blue

After the physician John Woodward intercepted the recipe for the tincture in a letter to Germany and published it in 1724 in the Philosophical Transactions. It was the chemist Étienne-François Geoffroy who, in 1725, shared the composition of Prussian blue with his French chemist colleagues. And Prussian blue soon became widespread throughout Europe, bearing from time to time the name Paris blue .

Later in 1756, other chemists were also interested in Prussian blue, particularly for its atypical chemical composition. Pierre Joseph Macquer published “Chemical examination of Prussian blue”, shortly after it was Joseph Louis Proust who also published Research on Prussian blue.

Prussian blue will soon spread to Egypt, as well as all around the Mediterranean Sea.

Excavations carried out after World War II in Poland at Lublin-Majdanek also led to a gas chamber which had its interior walls painted Prussian blue.

Using Prussian Blue in Painting

Despite its unique blue hue, Prussian blue is not a color that only has qualities. This color is known for its lack of solidity, and it is also very difficult to mix it with other colors because it tends to dirty them when it comes into contact with them.

Only 2 colors go well with Prussian blue:

  • Yellow: with which it produces a deep and luminous green.
  • Deep Red: with which you will obtain a very pretty deep black.

You should also be careful when applying Prussian blue to a canvas because this color tends to dry very quickly.

In France, Antoine Watteau (famous painter) was one of the first to use Prussian blue in his paintings in 1712. Here are two of his paintings in which he slightly integrated Prussian blue in the background for the sky.


Prussian blue in Japanese culture

It was around 1820 that Prussian blue was imported to Japan in Edo, and it did not take long to become notorious throughout the country.

It especially became very popular among Japanese painters and engravers, for whom the deep blue color of this shade fit perfectly into their color palettes of the time. Prussian blue, however, remained a fairly expensive color for many years due to its distant importation.

It is also found in other sectors and areas such as those mentioned below:

  • Clothes of peasants and artisans
  • Dishes
  • Samurai armor
  • Theather decorations

However, the interpretation of this color could change from one area to another.

Prussian blue: actor of a new artistic movement

In particular, it allowed the rise of a new genre: the Japanese landscape print . While Japan was subject to a very firm and restrictive policy, this artistic movement was perceived by the people as an escape through a philosophy focused on the appreciation of things in the moment and contact with nature.


Use of Prussian blue by Japanese painters

According to one account, Keisan Eisen was one of the first to use Prussian blue in one of his works in 1830. Later we find Utagawa Hiroshige who also used this blue wonderfully through works such as Naruto's Swirls at Awa or The Sea in Satta , Suruga Province .


“Naruto Swirls in Awa” and “The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province” by Utagawa Hiroshige

But the greatest Japanese master to have used Prussian blue was Katsushika Hokusai . He mainly contributed to popularizing this color with his series “Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji”, in which he used it on all his prints. Whether to bring the sea to life, or to accentuate a sky with a touch of pronounced blue at the top of the prints.


Inume Pass in Kai Province, The Great Wave off Kanagawa and Umezawa in Sagami Province by Katsushika Hokusai. Do not hesitate to find our large selection of iconic Japanese paintings in the Japanese prints category.

The application of Prussian blue to medicine

As surprising as it may seem, in addition to its intense color, Prussian blue has various medicinal properties. It is mainly renowned for its effectiveness against the poisons thallium and cesium , and is used against multiple contaminations.

For the more scientific among you, Prussian blue acts as a brake on the intestinal barrier by preventing radionuclides from entering the blood. Which can be useful following a nuclear accident. Prussian blue is also included on the WHO (World Health Organization) list of essential medicines.

The Prussian Blue in the literary domain

Although Prussian blue draws its great popularity from its color on canvas, the few antidote functions it possesses were clearly enough to make a novel out of it.

Philipp Kerr is indeed publishing a detective novel called Prussian Blue at the start of 2019 where an inspector named Bernie Gunther must elucidate a murder which could be an attack on the Third Reich.


We have not read it personally, but the fame of this British author and the many positive reviews of this book lead us to recommend it to you if you are looking for a good detective story to read.

The abandonment of Prussian blue

Unfortunately, Prussian blue is no longer one of the most used blues in the artistic world today. It is quite neglected in favor of phalto blue and intdanthrene blue.