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This project is a graphic novel: an autobiography of Prussian Blue. It is the personal history of a colour that changed the world. 

Created by accident in a scientific laboratory in 1704, Prussian Blue is the first modern synthetic pigment. My telling is from the point of view Blue themself, blending fact and fiction to tell their life story. From their surprise conception we follow Blue on a journey through time and space that is also a journey of self-discovery as they grapple with questions of who they are and where they belong – while transforming everything they touch. 

 

 

Our story begins with Blue’s unwitting creators, alchemist Konrad Dippel and colourmaker Johann Diesbach, crossing paths at the Academy of Sciences, Berlin, in 1704. Dippel lends Diesbach a supply of ‘potash’ contaminated with horse blood (containing iron), causing a pigment intended to be red to turn blue, as the compound iron ferrocyanide is created. In the midst of this unplanned chemical reaction, Blue comes alive and begins to understand their surroundings, absorbing through infant eyes the confusion, surprise and increasing excitement at their arrival.

 

We journey through paintings made possible by Blue, from early works at the Prussian court travelling out into the world to Impressionism. Its impact on the art world is huge, ending painters’ reliance on rare and expensive natural sources of blue like lapis lazuli. Prussian Blue becomes the colour of Van Gogh’s starry nights, Munch’s terrifying Scream and Hokusai’s iconic Great Wave. Blue is proud: mass availability of an affordable blue colour helped develop artists and movements; for the first time time, blue was not the preserve of the ultra-wealthy. 

 

But art is the beginning; this beautiful, mysterious blue powder dissolves into history’s slipstreams: in botany labs and hospitals, in factories and offices, in nuclear meltdowns and international power games, it is again and again an agent of change.

“But who knows what good might come from the least of us?

From the bones of old horses is made the most beautiful Prussian Blue.”

   –Joy Williams

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The ideas in the following pages are from Chapter 7, set in Victorian England. Blue is here thanks to the scientific work of Herschel and the invention of photography. Blue will meet Anna Atkins who created the first photographically illustrated scientific text book using Herschel's cyanotype process.
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