Lily Nishita
graphic design + illustration

Scheele's Green

Scheele's Green for Light Grey Art Lab's Color Anthropology show: Prints available here.

The poisonous green pigment Scheele’s green, a yellowish green, was invented by Carl Wilhelm Scheele using copper arsenite. In the 19th century green was difficult to create artificially, and since Scheele’s green was cheap and easy to process it virtually replaced all older green pigments. The beautiful green pigment was used to color almost everything: household products, artificial flowers, clothing, children’s toys, and even as a food dye in sweets. The pigment brought with it burns, rashes, illness, and death by arsenic poisoning. 

It is theorized Scheele’s green was also responsible for Napoleon’s death. Upon exile to St. Helena Napoleon lived in a luxurious home wallpapered with floral patterns stamped in Scheele’s green including a bathroom with a large copper tub Napoleon would spend hours in. The humidity on the island and in the bathroom created the perfect environment for mold to grow on the wallpaper and release the toxin into the air. Initial examination of his body found a cancerous stomach ulcer reported to be the reason for his death, but 1960s Tests on Napoleon’s hair samples revealed high amounts of arsenic which has been linked to higher rates of cancer in humans.