This article presents a historical and scientific investigation into commercially prepared British watercolour cakes from Londonbased artists’ colourmen Reeves, Rowney, Ackermann and Roberson, dating from before 1780 through to the early twentieth century. Analysis focused on the identification of the plant-gum binding medium via the use of gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and pigment identification via energy dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDX) and polarized light microscopy. The historical context is provided by an investigation into the historical uses of plant gums in European art and the history of importation of plant gums into the United Kingdom. The analysis of watercolour cakes used by the British artist J.M.W. Turner offered further insight into the use of specific plant gums and gum mixtures by eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury British painters.
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