mummy brown

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Mummy brown (sense 2) appears as number 10 (4th row from top, left) in this colour chart intended to standardize the names of colours used to describe birds, published in Robert Ridgway’s Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists (1886)[n 1]


mummy brown (usually uncountable, plural mummy browns)

  1. (painting, historical) A brown pigment originally prepared from the ground-up remains of Egyptian animal or human mummies mixed with bitumen, etc. [from 19th c.]
    Synonym: mummy (now rare)
    • [1842, G[eorge William] Francis, “Application of Chemistry”, in Chemical Experiments; Illustrating the Theory, Practice, and Application of the Science of Chemistry, [], London: G. Berger, [], OCLC 224888872, paragraph 2075, page 240, column 2:
      Mummy brown.—The bituminous substance found in and enveloping Egyptian mummies; it may be considered partly animal and partly bituminous matter.]
    • 1849, [Laughton Osborn], “Summary of the Generally-received Opinions with Regard to the Solidity of the Various Colors Now in Use for Oilpainting”, in Handbook of Young Artists and Amateurs in Oilpainting: [] By an American Artist, New York, N.Y.; London: John Wiley, [], OCLC 12141958, footnote, page 57:
      [I]nasmuch as from their very nature or origin the various specimens of Mummy-Brown must differ more or less, there is not the least reliance to be placed upon them: one is in the dark as to his materials, and can predict nothing with even ordinary certainty as to the result of their employment. It is therefore that we ourselves, though quite enamored of experiment, have never yet felt the least desire to essay this pigment, seeing nothing to be gained by smearing our canvas with a part perhaps of the wife of Potiphar, that might not be as easily secured by materials less frail and of more sober character.
    • 1875, “Color: The Origin of Pigments and Their Chemical Action”, in The Antefix Papers. Papers on Art Educational Subjects, Read at the Weekly Meetings of the Massachusetts Art Teachers’ Association, by Members and Others Connected with the Massachusetts Normal Art School, Boston, Mass.: Printed for private circulation, OCLC 8210457, page 39:
      Mummy brown comes from the catacombs of Egypt. It is the liquid bitumen that was used in embalming, chemically changed by time and mixture with animal remains. Objections to this pigment are sometimes raised on rather novel grounds, though whether they are the result of sentimental reverence or disgust is open to conjecture.
    • 1937, Rudyard Kipling, “A Very Young Person: 1865–1878”, in Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown, London: Macmillan and Co., Limited [], OCLC 776877548, page 13:
      And once he [Edward Burne-Jones] descended in broad daylight with a tube of ‘Mummy Brown’ in his hand, saying that he had discovered it was made of dead Pharaohs and we must bury it accordingly. So we all went out and helped—according to the rites of Mizraim and Memphis, I hope—and—to this day I could drive a spade within a foot of where that tube lies.
  2. The colour of this pigment, a variable brown intermediate between raw umber and burnt umber.
    mummy brown:  
    • 1893 August, Clarence M. Weed, “The Color Changes of Frogs”, in The Popular Science Monthly, volume XLIII, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton and Company, [], OCLC 228666442, page 492:
      I then placed it [a wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)] in an open window on a whitish bottom, and the next day it was light brown. At 2 p.m., August 24th, I put it on a jet-black shelf, with black surroundings. Forty-five minutes later it was very dark, nearly mummy brown [], but darker.
    • 2001, M[ichelle] R. Lovric, “The Language of Colour”, in Carnevale, London: Virago, →ISBN; republished London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015, →ISBN, part 1:
      Mummy Browns, from the crushings of Egyptian corpses, for the mortally ill and melancholy.
    • 2014, Victoria Finlay, “Mummy Brown: Funeral for Pharaohs”, in The Brilliant History of Color in Art, Los Angeles, Calif.: J. Paul Getty Museum, →ISBN, part 2 (Rocks, Minerals, Twigs, and Bugs), page 82, column 2:
      Mummy brown was a common shade in artists’ colors until 1925, but it cannot be bought from any paint shop today. In 1964 Time magazine reported [“Techniques: The Passing of Mummy Brown”, Time, 2 October 1964] that London colormaker C. Roberson, which for a while had been the only distributor, had run out a few years before. “We might have a few odd limbs lying around somewhere,” managing director Geoffrey Roberson-Park told Time, “but not enough to make any more paint.”


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Ridgway (1886) A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists, and Compendium of Useful Knowledge for Ornithologists, Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, and Company, OCLC 768502, plate III.

Further reading[edit]