CreativityColourPrussian alchemy

Prussian alchemy

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Reading time: 2:00min | Why we love blue so much.

The hand on the left belongs to artist Yves Klein (1928 – 1962).

When we talk about blue, we are talking about a colour whose spread is unstoppable. Some voices say the world is going blue. There are many reasons for this, such as the triumph of blue jeans. No other item of clothing is so omnipresent and yet so specific. If you change the colour of a pair of blue jeans, they become just any pair of trousers and lose their status as jeans.

Blue jeans in its best traditional look. Photography: George Dolkigh, Getty Images

Blue jeans are practical. They swallow dirt well and like to get ancient. The rule is, the older and more torn, the better. Ok, only to a certain degree, of course. And they look damn good on us. And that’s because, what wonder, of the blue colour. The blue of a perfect pair of jeans is on the cool side and makes a tremendous warm-cold contrast to the skin tone. People look healthy in jeans. Simultaneously, the blue of jeans is a perfect consumption colour in the best sense. It is there without dominating and supports the other colours of our appearance.

The perfect pair of jeans wear a proud, washed-out Prussian blue. We owe the existence of Prussian Blue to the alchemist Johann Jacob von Diesbach, who was sent to Berlin in 1706 to develop colours for the Prussian court. He shared the laboratory with his colleague Johann Conrad Dippel, whose speciality was the classical subject of gold production. One of Dippel’s retorts was contaminated. When von Diesbach wanted to produce carmine red, the impurity reacted with the red and made it deep blue. Prussian blue was invented and replaced the sinfully expensive ultramarine, which at the time was extracted from lapis lazuli and had to be imported from far away in Afghanistan, as a cheap alternative. Today, the original Prussian Blue still exists as a remedy against radioactive poisoning and is on the WHO list of indispensable medicines.

The colour Prussian Blue can be described as the blue par excellence. It sits in the centre of the blue and is the foundation for other shades of blue, e.g. ultramarine. Both blues are far apart in their effect. If Prussian blue is a neutral blue without much an opinion of its own, ultramarine, which tends slightly towards red, in full saturation has the effect of a brutal statement that after a short time turns out to be psychologically highly effective. It obscures contours and tires the eyes.

Ultramarine blue box on filmset. Photography: Canaran, Getty Images

Anyone who has ever had to gaze for a long time in a blue box or experienced a Yves Klein exhibition knows about the sedating power of ultramarine, which, in the right environment, can even function as the only signalling blue. Yves Klein called one of his exhibitions The Void (1958). It was about an empty room revealing the inner meaning of his addiction to ultramarine. This sums up quite well what Ultramarine is about.

Left ultramarine, right Prussian blue. Photography: Stux12365, Pixabay

Blue jeans in ultramarine feel wrong. Only through long wear and many washes does the shade of blue change into a more neutral, cooler Prussian blue and unfold its full effect as a gentle support for our skin tone.

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