The Brilliance of Ultramarine Blue in Watercolor Art: History, Characteristics, and Famous Examples

Ultramarine blue is a pigment that has been cherished by artists for centuries. It is a unique color that is versatile and has been used to create vivid skies, deep waters, and rich shadows. This pigment is a favorite among watercolorists, and in this article, we'll explore the history and characteristics of ultramarine blue, as well as its use in watercolor art. We'll also take a closer look at some famous examples of ultramarine blue in watercolor artworks before 1920.


What is Ultramarine Blue?

Ultramarine blue is a pigment that was originally made from ground lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone. Its name comes from the Latin "ultramarinus," meaning "beyond the sea," as it was imported from Asia through sea trade routes. Nowadays, ultramarine blue is synthetically made from a combination of kaolin, sulfur, and sodium carbonate.

Characteristics of Ultramarine Blue

Ultramarine blue has a high tinting strength, meaning that a little goes a long way. It is a semi-transparent pigment with a granular texture that creates a subtle texture on the paper. This pigment is a cool color, meaning it has a blue bias rather than a red bias. Additionally, it is relatively stable and lightfast, meaning it won't fade or change over time.

Ultramarine Blue in Watercolor Art

Watercolorists appreciate the versatility of ultramarine blue as it can create both light and dark shades. This pigment is often used to create deep, rich shadows and to create a sense of depth in landscapes and seascapes. Ultramarine blue is also popular for creating vibrant skies and waters, as well as for mixing with other colors to create a wide range of hues.

Famous Examples of Ultramarine Blue in Watercolor Art

J.M.W. Turner was a watercolorist who frequently used ultramarine blue in his paintings, such as in his iconic "The Fighting Temeraire" (1838). In this painting, ultramarine blue was used to create the deep, rich blues of the sky and water, as well as the shadows on the ship.

Winslow Homer also often used ultramarine blue in his watercolors, such as in "The Gulf Stream" (1899). In this painting, ultramarine blue was used to create the swirling, turbulent waters around the man in the boat, as well as the dark shadows of the clouds.

John Singer Sargent's watercolor paintings often showcased the brilliance of ultramarine blue, such as in his stunning "Gondoliers' Siesta" (c. 1904) (picture below). In this painting, ultramarine blue was used to create the deep, rich blue of the water, as well as the shadows and reflections of the gondolas.


Ultramarine blue is a beautiful and versatile pigment that has been used by artists for centuries. In watercolor art, it is a favorite among artists for its ability to create deep shadows, vibrant skies, and rich waters. As demonstrated by the famous watercolor artworks discussed in this article, ultramarine blue has played a significant role in the history of watercolor art and continues to inspire artists today. If you're looking to experiment with this stunning pigment, you can find ultramarine blue as one of the eight colors in our Skrim Aquarell set, perfect for artists of all skill levels. Happy painting!

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