This dress came with both a low‐cut bodice for evening wear and a more buttoned‐up bodice for daytime wear. Many Victorian dresses, including this one, were made with both styles of top and the advantage of “Emerald Green” was that it kept its bright colour in both natural and gas lighting. Collection of Glennis Murphy. Photo credit: Image © 2015 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada
Before inventor Carl Wilhelm Scheele came along near the end of the 18th century, there was no colorfast green, only the option to do a blue overlay with yellow or vice versa. By mixing arsenic and copper, Scheele developed a pigment that would hold, whether in wallpaper, paintings, or clothing. It also happened to look fantastic under natural and new gas light, an important duality for the time. By the mid-19th century, when, as Matthews David notes “nature was disappearing from the environment,” this “Emerald Green” was incredibly popular in artificial flowers. It was also highly toxic, even deadly, and it’s no coincidence that Baudelaire titled his book of tormented poems Les Fleurs du Mal — The Flowers of Evil — just as the death of a young artificial florist was being investigated.I presume the deadliness of the pigment derived primarily from its manufacture, not from wearing the clothing, as the embedded image of a lithograph of arsenic-damaged hands illustrates.