A colour with a bloody past

As one of the primary colours, Magenta is now an essential part of art painting. The dye was developed chemically in 1856 and owes its name to the bloody battle by the Italian town of Magenta. Due to the poor lightfastness of the dye, the red-pink colour these days is made based on the pigment Quinacridone.


The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century also saw the emergence of chemistry as a science which led to the discovery that the raw materials of paint could also be manufactured synthetically. Since then a distinction has been made between natural and synthetic dyes and pigments. The names of the natural colouring agents often give a clear indication of their origins. They usually refer to the plant, animal or the region from which they come. Examples include Madder (from the Madder plant), Sepia (Latin for squid) and Indian yellow (from India). In the case of synthetically manufactured dyes and pigments this is of course different. This can clearly be seen in the red-pink colour that was developed in 1856, which was initially given the unpronounceable name triaminotriphenyl carbonium chloride. As the tint strongly resembled that of the fuchsia plant, it was referred to under the more convenient name 'Fuchsine'. Later it was given the official name Magenta, following an extremely bloody battle.

Battle of Magenta

In 1859 France and Austria declared war on one another. A battle took place near the Italian town of Magenta in the province of Milan. Despite inferior numbers, 54,000 against 58,000, France executed a surprising manoeuvre to clinch victory, though the losses on both sides were considerable. The French suffered 4000 dead and wounded, and the Austrians 5700. The battlefield was so red from the blood that the red dye discovered three years previously was from that moment called Magenta.

From dye to pigment

The dye was however not yet suitable for making thick paint. It first of all had to be chemically precipitated onto a colourless pigment so that a 'lacquered pigment' could be produced. This allowed the red-pink colour to also be processed into a pasty paint. Even after this process the lightfastness was by no means ideal. These days the Magenta in Rembrandt paints is therefore made from the pigment Quinacridone, which has an excellent lightfastness.

Dye or pigment…

What's the difference exactly?

As a coloured powder, dyes and pigments cannot easily be told apart. The difference only becomes clear once they are mixed with a binder or solvent. If the powder dissolves, like sugar in tea, then it is a dye and suitable for use in, for example, liquid inks. Pigments in contrast are excellent for manufacturing thick, pasty paint. Another important difference is the lightfastness. Under the influence of light, dyes have a strong tendency to fade, whilst pigments in general retain their original true colour much longer.

Royal Talens has the colour Magenta / Quinacridone in the following product ranges:

  • Rembrandt oil colours, colour number: 366
  • Rembrandt water colours, colour number: 366
  • Van Gogh oil colours, colour number: 366
  • Van Gogh acrylic colours, colour number: 366
  • Van Gogh water colours, colour number: 366
  • Cobra water mixable oil colours, colour number: 369
  • Amsterdam acrylic colours Standard Series, colour number: 369
  • Amsterdam acrylic colours Expert Series, colour numbers: 346, 363 and 366
  • Amsterdam oil colours, colour number: 366
  • Talens Gouache Extra Fine quality, colour number: 397