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"What colour is madder red?" Topic

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3,196 hits since 22 Aug 2014
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matthewgreen Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 4:47 a.m. PST

Well I am quite surprised to draw a blank in a title search for "madder red" on TMP – as I have always struggled with it. I am sure it has been discussed here, and if anybody can link me to where it has, that will be helpful.

The main context that I ask this question is for Prussian infantry facings in Napoleonic times, where it comes up as the facing colour for Rhine regiments – I would, incidentally like to know what the German name for this colour is.

This colour contrasts with colours translated as poppy-red, brick-red, carmine and crimson. The colour also turns up in English translations of Austrian facing colours, where it also contrasts with a number of other shades of red (pompadour, crab red, poppy red, pale red, carmine in the Osprey)

The madder dye can be used to produce pretty much any shade of red, so far as understand, so that isn't helpful of itself. In modern fashion it seems to be associated with a deep crimson shade, and associated with the Alizarin pigment. This may not be that far off its meaning in this context.

From these various strands my current belief is that it is crimson shade, but with lower chroma (duller), as you might get from mixing a little green into a bright crimson, but a bit brighter than the artist's Venetian Red. Contrasts with other Prussian facings: crab-red is scarlet, brighter and more yellow; brick-red is more yellow still, but also lower chroma; crimson (which comes up as a cavalry facing colour) would be brighter and perhaps bluer; carmine takes you a bit more towards violet.

Does anybody have a different understanding?


Altefritz22 Aug 2014 4:55 a.m. PST

Look here:


It is the first.

Aidan Campbell Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 5:25 a.m. PST

As one of the many things I do to earn a living I run a small business replicating early period fabrics for dressing re-enactors and museum interpreters through to Oscar/BAFTA winning theatrical costumiers and as such have some experience playing with natural dyes…

As you say natural madder dyes cover a wide range of hues which can in extreme cases take in mushroom greys, purples and pinks but are most commonly associated with terracotta oranges through to the best examples giving deep scarlets.

I can't claim to have knowledge specifically of the uniforms you reference but until light fast synthetic dyes were introduced it was common for colours to vary a lot from one dye bath to the next and also within a single dye bath depending upon fading with use.

In a war-gaming context people like the idea that there must be a "right answer" and a specified pot of paint that's the "correct hue" … historically it's probably more accurate to paint each figure a subtly different hue spanning most of the variations you describe

For a different context or view point making madder lake pigment by extracting and sedimenting the alazarin as a solid is another interesting project and here you will find a defined hue as referenced in paint charts

MajorB22 Aug 2014 5:30 a.m. PST

Thanks Aidan, that's really useful. As a matter of interest, can you give a date for when light fast synthetic dyes were introduced?

Personal logo Virtualscratchbuilder Supporting Member of TMP Fezian22 Aug 2014 5:56 a.m. PST

The fashion industry wife says reliable synthetic dyes date from the middle of the 1800's – 50's and 60's.

matthewgreen Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 7:00 a.m. PST

Thanks Aidan. That's interesting. I appreciate that there are no right answers here. Still I think there are some degrees of standardisation. You'd expect a huge variation for the madder reds of British or (earlier) Saxon uniform coats – less for facings which were meant to distinguish between different regiments. It would be interesting to get a feel for the sort of expected contrast between the different shades. Since not much cloth was needed to produce facings, we might expect each batch to cover a larger number of uniforms, so also ensure a bit more uniformity. Still I expect there was a lot of variation.

Interesting chart Altefritz. This suggests that the main difference between madder red and poppy red (where the contrast is most important, since poppy red appears on the turnbacks, is that it was less saturated (paler), a bit more violet (or crimson) and if anything a bit more colour pure. Carmine/crimson was a similar colour to madder red in terms of red-blue balance but deeper and darker.

This suggests that to get madder red you put a bit of white into a reddish crimson.

Terrement Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 7:15 a.m. PST


daubere Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 7:55 a.m. PST

Originally the dye was made from the roots of the madder plant (Rubia tinctoria). Like most vegetable dyes, it does not produce an intense hue, but unlike many such dyes it is very light fast and so not prone to fading – although washing/water will of course reduce its colour.

As Aidan says, dyestuffs varied widely from batch to batch, but the basic shade you should be aiming for is something like Vallejo 957 Flat Red

Fat Wally22 Aug 2014 8:05 a.m. PST

…does it really madder?

[gets coat]

Oliver Schmidt22 Aug 2014 8:23 a.m. PST

The Royal order of 25 March 1815 destined krapprot facings for the Prussian infantry regiments 22, 23, 25 and 30. (They received the provincial denomination "Rheinisch" as late as 1816.)

Krapp is a plant (Rubia tinctorum), used for making red dye.

An image at Wikipedia, from dying in Colonial Williamsburg, shows that this doesn't help much for identifying the shade of red:


Anyway, the actual shade of colours normally varied from bale to bale, even if they were sold under the name of the same colour. Exposition to sun, rain, dirt, cleaning etc. altered the colour as well.

Here, you find a "typical" shade of Krapprot from a later time, Austrian infantry ca. 1900, I presume:


And here, at the bottom, some colours in use in the Prussian army in 1806 (alas, no Krapprot). It is a reconstruction after the great Kling, who probably based his table on contemporary prints:


boy wundyr x Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 8:48 a.m. PST

That must be the chart John Keegan referred to in his history of WWI, where he talked about the Austrians defining 16 (or so) colours of red for their uniforms but that was about the start and end of their readiness for war.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 10:26 a.m. PST

This is a terrific chart, thanks for the link!

Nice to see that I correctly interpreted the mysterious"philemot yellow", worn by the British 13th Foot in the mid-18th century and noted cryptically in records as the color of "dead leaves" (!) (But from what tree? They're not all the same!)

Now if only this chart showed the similarly elusive Lincoln Green (see a separate discussion under the general Painting board).

Fizzypickles Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 1:49 p.m. PST

Natural rose madder supplied half the world with red, up until 1868, when its alizarin component became the first natural dye to be synthetically duplicated by Carl Graebe and Carl Liebermann.[11] Advances in the understanding of chemistry, such as chemical structures, chemical formulas, and elemental formulas, aided these Berlin based scientists in discovering that alizarin had an anthracene base. However, their recipe was not feasible for large scale production; it required expensive and volatile substances, specifically bromine. William Perkin, the inventor of mauve, filed a patent in June 1869, for a new way to produce alizarin without bromine. Graebe, Liebermann and Heinrich Caro filed a patent for a similar process just one day before Perkin did – yet both patents were granted, as Perkin's had been sealed first. They divided the market in half: Perkin sold to the English market, and the scientists from Berlin to the United States and mainland Europe.

Because this synthetic alizarin dye could be produced for a fraction of the cost of the natural madder dye, it quickly replaced all madder-based colorants then in use (in, for instance, British army red coats that had been a shade of madder from the late 17th century to 1870 & French military cloth, often called 'Turkey Red'[12]). In turn, alizarin itself has now been largely replaced by the more light-resistant quinacridone pigments originally developed at DuPont in 1958.

Kinda says it all really. So many variables involved in depicting colours from historic written reference it's impossible to know for sure what is authentic.

spontoon22 Aug 2014 3:12 p.m. PST

Remember that the fabric the dye is applied to will affect the hue/shade too!

WeeWars22 Aug 2014 3:49 p.m. PST

From WIKI:

Colours: The dye used for privates' coats of the infantry, guard and line, was madder. A vegetable dye, it was recognised as economical, simple and reliable and remained the first choice for lower quality reds from the ancient world until chemical dyes became cheaper in the latter 19th century.

Infantry NCOs, some cavalry regiments and many volunteer corps (which were often formed from prosperous middle class citizens who paid for their own uniforms) used various mock scarlets; a brighter red but derived from cheaper materials than the cochineal used for officers coats. Various dye goods were used for these middle quality reds, but lac, pigment extracted from the vegetable resin shellac, was the most common basis.

Officers' superfine broadcloth was dyed true scarlet with cochineal, a dye derived from insects. Much more expensive, but a colour world famous and the speciality of 18th-century English dyers.

Personally, for madder red as a facing colour I would use a dull flat red (Foundry does a madder red) without adding white to have a difference between a madder and pinks, orange-reds, scarlet and crimson.

WeeWars22 Aug 2014 3:50 p.m. PST

I should have added that the Wiki entry is for the British Red Coat.

GarrisonMiniatures Inactive Member22 Aug 2014 4:07 p.m. PST

The first synthetic dye, mauveine, was made in 1856.

wrgmr122 Aug 2014 9:29 p.m. PST

I use Americana Napa red then highlight with True Red.

See the turn backs on these Calpe Figures.



Zargon Inactive Member23 Aug 2014 11:50 a.m. PST

A truly interesting thread thanks guys.

Klebert L Hall Inactive Member23 Aug 2014 3:10 p.m. PST

I gather it looks just like madder red.

matthewgreen Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member26 Aug 2014 10:11 a.m. PST

Thanks everybody for an interesting thread. It may be of interest to account for how I have solved this problem in the context of my current project of a 15mm unit of the Prussian 25th IR for 1815. I have chosen to do this with figures in a variety of uniforms belonging to its various component units (filling in the many gaps with guesswork). This involves the use of madder red, poppy red and brick red.

What I want is a level of visible contrast between these colours, which is informed by the sorts of contrast that people would have expected at the time.

For poppy red and brick red this is quite easy. Poppy red it relatively bright, saturated mid-range red, between crimson and scarlet. Brick red is a dull scarlet, that looks lighter than poppy red.

The evidence on madder red is contradictory. I can see almost no contrast to poppy red on Oliver Schmidt's plate in the Osprey Warrior publication on Prussian infantry. Austrian colour charts from 1815 and 1820 posted on a TMP thread on Austrian facings earlier this year ( (described as Grapproth) suggest something deep and a bit dull – not unlike modern Madder Red, as I suggested in my original post. This is similar to a colour referred to as Turkish Red in English, which seems to have been the more expensive sort of colour produced by madder dye.

The alternative in the 1900 Austrian chart shown by Oliver above, is very close to Poppy red – a colour which is not among the ten shades of red on that chart.

I have plumped for something like the "Turkish Red". I mix my colours using artists acrylics (unlike most hobbyists) so I have achieved the various colours as so:
- Poppy red: mainly Cadmium red with a touch of Venetian Red to reduce the brightness and Yellow Ochre to counteract venetian Red's blueness.
- Madder red: More Venetian Red than for poppy red and no Yellow Ochre
- Brick red: cadmium red and yellow ochre mix
- Carmine/Crimson (I don't need this now but I thought I would try to mix it for future reference anyway) A mix of Cadmium red and Quinacridone Magenta with Venetian red to dull it down.
Here's what they looked like. The colours haven't reproduced that well on this picture (they should be brighter), but you may get the idea!


Oliver Schmidt28 Aug 2014 3:10 a.m. PST

The actual shade of colour of krapprot madder red is difficult to reconstruct. As a distinctive colour, it had a short live: It was introduced in March 1815, and given up on 9 February 1816 with the new system of identifying the regiments by a combination of the five colours white, red, yellow, light blue and dark blue on cuffs, cuff flaps and shoulder straps only, all collars were changed to the standard ponceaurot poppy red.

I don't know of any contemporary paintings showing it, and obviously a shade of red seen by an eye witness in the street and the one used by him later at home when he made his painting from memory, with the watercolors at hand, and under completely different conditions of light, need not necessarily be identical anyway.

The interpretation in my Osprey warrior was just a kind of guess. But I agree with Matthew's proposal above that it was somewhere in between ponceaurot poppy red and karmoisinrot carmine red.liver

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP28 Aug 2014 2:30 p.m. PST

Not quite as dark as raving bonkers red, but darker than mildly annoyed red.

matthewgreen Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member29 Aug 2014 9:01 a.m. PST

So poppy red = mildly annoyed red; crimson/carmine = raving bonkers red.

The Vallejo Flat Red as suggested above looks as good a fit as any on my interpretation.

The Kronoskaf interpretation (see Altefritz above) follows the later Austrian colour. Firebrick would be a better fit on this range. But perhaps this colour follows its usage for French facings (called garance), as and when they were able to achieve any consistency – especially when modern dyes were introduced.

Painted up on the figures, the contrasts don't show at any distance. No doubt this was one reason that the Prussians opted for a single shade of red in 1816. The contrasts were not sufficiently visible, and no doubt were beyond dying technology to deliver reliably.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP31 Aug 2014 7:19 a.m. PST

Painted up on the figures, the contrasts don't show at any distance. No doubt this was one reason that the Prussians opted for a single shade of red in 1816. The contrasts were not sufficiently visible, and no doubt were beyond dying technology to deliver reliably.

It's very noticeable that many countries adopted red for all infantry facings during the Napoleonic period – Russia, France, and Bavaria just off the top of my head, all abandoned unique regimental facing colours.

I also wonder if the widespread cessation of musicians using reversed colours may have contributed to this, as well. An entire coat in a special type of red would have been more distinctive than just facings.

Ibrahim9008 Jun 2018 5:03 a.m. PST

I know, I'm necroing a thread, but since I made the Kronoskaf color chart (and my trade brings me in regular contact with the color), I figured I'd pitch in with some input:

the color called "madder red" (Krapprot), which is described as a facing color for Rhenish Landwehr, is specifically the color of the Alizaren derived from the plant (1,2-dihydroxyanthraquinone), with some Purpurin (which in spite of the name, makes the madder more orange-tinted). The color is still used in the oil industry, and Geology in general, to stain calcite, as well as the apatite in skeletons.

The color, overall, is best described as a reddish-crimson (or crimsony-red?) color, with the value ranging from a moderately deep to moderate color (the former is close to what is called "Venetian red"--you can find it on Wikipedia. The latter is proper "rose madder" color). This latter one was what I used for Kronoskaf. When some of you say it's between Ponceaurot and Crimson, you weren't far off, though the color is really slightly closer to crimson. Another way I can describe is the way the Spanish did: it's fleshy-colored…sort of.

here is a painting that actually shows it(faded--we'll return to this):


The Grenadier on the right has it. Benjamin West had a great eye for detail, when he made the painting (for example, he shows the guy wearing buckskin breeches--an actual campaign modification of the uniform, common in Canada). Everyone else has red derived from Cochineal, which is why their uniforms are redder.

Fresher samples:



Part of the difficulty in nailing this color is that Madder was also used for the other shades of red in Prussia (one Oliver Schmidt correctly shows here), as well as yellows and oranges. It was even used for scarlet facings, as seen in Prussia and the British Artillery; in Britain's case, it was not unusual to call madder red--as worn by the regular infantry--"scarlet". The variations were achieved by using a variety of mordaunts and fixing agents, which affect the color. But madder red itself seems to refer to what is shown above, by default. It's more a series of shades than a specific rgb-color, and as with all colors discussed, varied naturally by dye-lot: in fact this color tends to vary more than the others here.

Another issue is that this particular color, which I described, doesn't stay that way for long. The decay of purpurin will make the color more crimson-like, and as the alizaren itself washes out, the uniform/facings will turn into a dusty rose color (one effect of this was to stain lace pink on British uniforms: you can just make it out on the grenadier in the painting, especially the waistcoat). This can be mistaken for other colors, depending on exact circumstances (deeper lots look a lot like Poppy red at a distance, and the faded ones too much like crimson). And it looks tacky.

I suspect the greater than average variability, ease of mistaking it for other colors, and frankly, unhelpful nature of the term, that led to its abandonment not long after the Napoleonic wars.

Ziegelrot (tile-red) is indeed best described as a reddish-orange color (which is what is shown in 1806 depictions of Prussian infantry). Poppy red as a name is pretty accurate description, being a deep vivid red (with a little orange). Scarlet is a bright slightly orange red (same sorce, but also the painting I give).

42flanker09 Jun 2018 7:27 a.m. PST

A little known fact is that Frederick Albert Gatty, who with his fellow Alsatian Federic Steiner, having immigrated to England in the 1840s and pioneered improved production of Turkey Red in their Lancashire dye-works, later developed the first fast mineral khaki dye adopted by the British army in the 1880s.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP13 Jun 2018 7:42 a.m. PST


1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP13 Jun 2018 7:48 a.m. PST

Not mentioned above is that the water, vessels and preparation of the wool had major roles in varying the shade of red. Dyeing with most dyes is a two step process. First, a metal salt in heated with the wool (or other fibre) to attach the metal salt to the protein wool. Next the dye (ground madder root) is heated with the prepared wool. The dye molecule attaches to the metal ion (molecule) which is attached to the wool. The metal ion changes the properties of the color producing part of the dye- so you get a different color.

If you use a different mordant, you get different colours.

Different concentrations of dye and multiple uses of the dyebath also give different colours


You should also expect variations from [1] the local water supply, which (hard water) would have different trace amounts of other mordants, [2] the contamination of the equipment by previous use of other mordants, and [3] the source of the wool- different breeds wool dyes differently and also has some metal contamination.

Along with aging of the fabric in use… I wouldn't get too upset with having different shades of red/orange for your unit

Ibrahim9014 Jun 2018 3:34 a.m. PST

Agreed. As already mentioned by me, madder can be used to get a whole bunch of shades, not just the "standard" (which was really a bunch of similar shades).

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