Scheele’s Green with Envy

We love Scheele’s green 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
As everyone knows, green is not a primary colour – it was only in the 1700s, when copper was heavily mined, that copper arsenite (a bi product of the mining proccess) 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 sulfate.  It was cheap to produce and really caught on, becoming all the rage in the Victorian interior.  It became known as Scheele’s green.  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.
But here’s the unlucky part. People’s homes were literally killing them as they were inhaling arsenic from the green pigment.  It is rumoured that Napolean 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 blood stream than we do today.
Pimpernel Wallpaper from Morris and Co
Once a deadly choice, now safely loved in period interiors.
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 produde 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.

Luckily we can enjoy green today 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.  It’s even tipped by Vogue as an interior trend for 2022.⁠

If you’d like to discuss our approach to design and our passion for how brilliantly designed furniture can immesurably improve your experience of living in a period house, please email or call 01934 734270


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