The Book and Paper Group
The American Institute for Conservation

Summary of the History of Blue Paper

by Roy Perkinson
Dates Examples of use Materials Regions
1400's St. Nicholas of Myra, ca. 1480
(Venetian woodcut, National Gallery of Art): earliest known example Carpaccio (1490s)
Blue cotton and linen rags, dyed with indigo and/or woad. Vicinity of Venice; northern Italy.
1500's Dürer (1508); Leonardo (1510);
Bassano (2nd halt of century); Barocci
" " Remained principally associated with northern Italy, but probably spread gradually into the rest of Europe.
Goltzius (1680s-1590s) Blue cotton and linen rags, dyed as above, but with an overall enhancement of color achieved by adding a dye extracted from Iogwood, a South American tree, directly to the pulp. Probably originated in the Netherlands.
1600's Lambert Doomer; Jacob Backer; Claude Lorrain. Blue paper also used for wrapping suger, linen, candles, " " The Netherlands became a major supplier of blue paper throughout Europe. Continued to be produced in Italy.
1700's Blue paper in regular use for figure drawing and for pastel portraits. Deeper blue varieties used for mounts (e.g., Mariette) as well as wrapping paper. J.-B.-S. Chardin; Richardson; Copley; M. 0. de la Tour; R. Carriera. Options For blue colorants included turnsole, solubilized indigo, and logwood, which were added separately or mixed together directly to pulp made of either blue or white rags. Probably throughout Europe.
Advent of uniformly colored, pale blue papers: used for letters, printing, albums, as well as for drawing. Prussian blue (discovered by 1710) used for production of light blue papers (1770s). In the latter part of the century, smalt (powdered cobalt glass) used for "blueing". Geographic distribution uncertain, but use of Prussian blue by papermakers probably began in France. Smalt used frequently in England.
1800's Use of "variegated" blue papers (made from blue rags) continued. Expanded use of uniformly colored light blue papers (made both by hand and by machine), especially for elegant writing paper as well as for sketching and watercolors. Turner; Homer; Edward Lear; Delacroix; Victor Hugo. Considerable expansion in the range of possible colorants. Synthetic ultramarine (1830) as well as Prussian blue, logwood (and other dyewoods), and smalt. Other tints (e.g., purple, purple-blue, green, blue-green) achieved by adding red dyes and chrome yellow. International.

Publication History

Received: Fall 1997

Paper delivered at the Book and Paper specialty group session, AIC 25th Annual Meeting, June, 1997, San Diego, California.

Papers for the specialty group session are selected by committee, based on abstracts and there has been no further peer review. Papers are received by the compiler in the Fall following the meeting and the author is welcome to make revisions, minor or major.