Monday, May 24, 2010

PENNY: Post 1: Swooning Mauve

3-amino-2,±9-dimethyl-5-phenyl-7-(p-tolylamino)phenazinium acetate

C26H23N4+X-(mauveine A) and C27H25N4+X-(mauveine B)

#E0B0FF RGBB (r, g, b) (224, 176, 255)

The colour Mauve was discovered in 1856 by a scientist named William Perkin. He was trying to analyse the molecular structure of Quinine (anti-malarial) to produce a cheaper synthesized version through experimenting with aniline/coal tar. A mistake left a test tube with purple residue in it. Perkins, being an imaginative sort of guy, messed around with it and discovered that it was effective as a synthetic dye. Although initially ridiculed by his contemporaries for his 'purple sludge', Perkins went on to develop it as the first commercially marketed aniline dye.

Originally aniline purple or Tyrian purple (also the name of a mollusk-derived natural dye), it was dubbed mauve in early 1859, from the French, mallow flower. Chemists later called it mauveine.

A postage stamp fromthe 'mauve decade' using mauve dye

The 1890s in Britain were sometimes referred to as the "Mauve Decade," because of the popularity of the colour. In 1862 Queen Victoria appeared at the Royal Exhibition in a mauve silk gown. She also wore mauve at her daughters wedding and Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III, Empress of France, and a royal fashion plate) thought mauve matched her eyes.
Empress of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna (6 June 1872 – 17 July 1918), had a boudoir known as the ‘Mauve Room’.

Mauve came to symbolise decadence and the flaunting of authority and social normality when artists such as Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde wore it ostentatiously through the Art Nouveau Period. The colour also became associated with homosexuality which translated into the lavender and pink of the 1950's and 1970's.

In 1926, Thomas Beer's book The Mauve Decade: American Life at the End of the Nineteenth Century, described the United States in a parallel with Britain, as moving away from its more traditional way of life into a period of "decay and meaningless phrases".

A tablecloth died with the original Perkins dye.
Art Nouveau introduced colours such as mauve, into the everyday.

Mauve moved from being incredibly fashionable in all the right circles, to being defined by James Whistler; artist and contemporary of Oscar Wilde; as "just pink trying to be purple", a representation of posturing and pretension. Mauve fell out of fashion in the late 1860s, overtaken by the burgeoning palette of the synthetic dye industry, but not before Perkins made his fortune and birthed synthetic chemistry as a business.

As mauve was a synthetic dye, it became more accessible than most dye during the war years and after. Many ordinary items became easier to colour.


  1. This was a tricky topic to write about, so it is way out of order!

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