Scheele’s Green with Envy

We love Scheele’s green as a home interior colour, and we use it in many of our projects to reflect the taste of previous generations. But have you ever wondered why green is meant to be unlucky? ⁠ ⁠
scheeles green painted cabinet
Artichoke designed this with Scheele’s green paint and wallpaper by Allyson McDermott

What is Scheele’s green?

As everyone knows, green is not a primary colour and was not available as a colour for home interior prior to the 1700s. It was during this period when copper was heavily mined, that copper arsenite (a bi-product of the mining process) was discovered.

The vibrant yellow-green pigment derivative for green was concocted by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1775 by combining sodium carbonate, arsenious oxide and copper sulphate. It was cheap to produce and really caught on, becoming all the rage in the Victorian interior. It became known as Scheele’s green, and was immensely popular as a colour for home interior. Whole houses turned green – dyes, drapes, paints, wallpaper, hosiery hats and toys were all coloured with copper arsenite as the new trendy colour washed the land.

Why was Scheele’s green toxic?

Here’s the unlucky part. People’s home interiors were literally killing them as they were inhaling arsenic from the green pigment. It is rumoured that Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning whilst exiled on St Helena – his rooms were papered and painted with the pigment.⁠⁠ In fact a sample of hair from Napoleon’s head, tested in 2008, showed he had 100 times more arsenic in his bloodstream than we do today.

Pimpernel Wallpaper from Morris and Co
Once a deadly choice, now safely loved in period home interiors.

William Morris and Scheele’s green

Scheele’s green was pushed heavily by the Arts and Crafts designer William Morris, who had a vested interest as he had shares in the copper mines which helped produce the Scheele’s green pigments. Even he had to cease promoting it after the rising numbers of dying and ill workers and stories of children tragically dying young damaged its popularity beyond repair.

 

The colour today

Luckily we can now enjoy green as a home interior colour without the health risk. Farrow and Ball offer it as a product and it can be mixed as a Hex colour #478800 or RGB references 71, 136, 0.  We used it in the pantry in our South Coast project together with the stunning hand-painted wallpaper is by Allyson McDermott that replicates William Morris’ pomegranate wallpaper.

If you’d like to discuss our approach to design and our passion for how brilliantly designed furniture can improve your experience of living in a period house, please email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call 01934 745270

 

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