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Lithograph of Stonehenge
MFA# 59.795


Sepia wash
MFA# 48.375

1) The dark brown-black liquid secreted by the cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis or other Cephalopoda. The ink sacs and fluid are removed from the squid and sun-dried; then the color is extracted with alkali and precipitated with acid. Sepia was used for inks since antiquity. It was first introduced as a watercolor pigment mixed with Gum arabic about 1780 by Jacob Seydelmann in Dresden. Sepia is a natural organic acid that is fairly permanent, except in strong sunlight.

2) A dark, warm black color resembling the tone obtained from cuttlefish ink. Other pigment mixtures of Burnt umber, Vandyke brown, and Lampblack are also sold under the name sepia.

3) (not common) A powder composed of ground cuttlefish bones. Sepia powder, also called Sepiolite, is composed of Calcium carbonate and Calcium phosphate. It is used as a polishing agent.

Synonyms and Related Terms

1) Warm Black; cuttlefish ink; sepiomelanin; Natural Brown 9; sépia (Fr., Port.)

3) cuttlefish bone; cuttlebone; sepiolite;


Sepia, Kremer Pigments.PNG

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Soluble in ammonium hydroxide, alkalis. Insoluble in acids, water, ethanol.
  • Decolorized by nitric acid and chlorine bleaches.
  • Fishy odor.
  • Fugitive in ultraviolet light.

Resources and Citations

  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • Helmut Schweppe, Schweppe color collection index and information book
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 609
  • Reed Kay, The Painter's Guide To Studio Methods and Materials, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1983
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • R.D. Harley, Artists' Pigments c. 1600-1835, Butterworth Scientific, London, 1982
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The Merck Index, Martha Windholz (ed.), Merck Research Labs, Rahway NJ, 10th edition, 1983 Comment: entry 8601
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • The Dictionary of Art, Grove's Dictionaries Inc., New York, 1996 Comment: 'Pigment'

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