Pierre-Auguste Renoir is believed to have said: “Without paint in tubes there would have been…nothing of what the journalists were later to call Impressionists.”
The Economist gives a pocket history of pigment:
To get good secondary colours, like greens and purples, the primaries you use need to be as pure as possible. From antiquity until the 19th century the majority of pigments were either mined from the earth as in the case of ultramarine, squeezed from the carcasses of invertebrates cochineal; tyrian purple, or produced through simple chemical reactions verdigris. None was completely pure. Another problem was that many pigments weren’t stable. Some couldn’t be blended without discolouring or eating away at the canvas—as early buyers of Turner, who was notoriously careless about his pigment choices, angrily discovered.Some new colours were discovered by accident: in 1856 the 18-year-old William Perkin was trying to synthesise quinine in his father’s shed when he stumbled across the mixture he would later market as the dye mauveine. But many others came about through concerted efforts in the 19th century to expand the range and reduce the cost of colours for use in industry. Ultramarine was a particular problem. By far the most stable and brightest blue, it had to be painstakingly extracted from lapis lazuli mined in the Sar-e-Sang mines in northern Afghanistan and then shipped along the Silk Road to Venice. This made it exorbitantly expensive. In 1824 a reward of 6,000 francs was offered by the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, a French industry body, to anyone who could manufacture an artificial version. Two chemists, one French and the other German, simultaneously published the same recipe. The synthetic French ultramarine was chemically identical to the real thing, but cheaper to produce, with even particles and no impurities.
The Economist explains: How artists’ paints are made (The Economist)