Discovering the Origin of Color at the Prague Museum of Natural History

In 2006 I traveled to Prague for the second time in my life. I had been there in 1990 with some friends, which allowed me to gain a local’s point of view of the city. This time I was there as a tourist. After completing all of the obligatory sightseeing, I was intrigued by this big dark building that loomed at the end of one of Prague’s grand avenues. After some minor research, I discovered that it was the National Natural History Museum. The tour guide did not rate the sight as very noteworthy, but I was curious to see the inside of the building, simply to see the architecture.

The admission fee was nominal and the halls were empty. I wandered from room to room, only to turn the corner and make a stunning discovery.

I had found the rooms that housed the museum’s collection of minerals. I went from cabinet to cabinet with bated breath, as I recognized so many names of minerals that have a long history in the evolution of the modern day pigment. Without a thought, I pulled out my camera and was almost wrestled to ground by a museum guard, because I had not purchased a photo pass. The equivalent of 50 cents later, I was snapping away, quickly filling the memory card on my camera.

 Malachite Mineral

Malachite Mineral

At this point I had already been selling pigments for over 10 years, but I was still bowled over by standing face to face with the origin of many pigment colors. Before pigments were synthesized chemically, artists were using such ground minerals as malachite, cinnabar and azurite for their brighter shades.

 Cinnabar Mineral

Cinnabar Mineral

I returned 10 years later and I looked forward to visiting the collection again. To my disappointment, the National History Museum was undergoing extensive renovations, which meant the building had been gutted and only parts of the collection were being displayed in an adjacent modern building. Fortunately I still have the images from the collection.

 Agate Mineral

Agate Mineral

 Muscovite Mica Mineral

Muscovite Mica Mineral

 Realgar Mineral

Realgar Mineral