Colour Theory: A Brief History

These diagrams are 19th and 20th century attempts to systematize colours and describe how the human eye perceives them. In the late 18th century, scholars began to develop colour theory according to the understanding that three primary colours – red, yellow, and blue – could be combined to create all others; these hypotheses would be instrumental in forming early theories of colour vision and the science of perception. Although Sir Isaac Newton and Da Vinci both developed theories of colour, the German poet Goethe organized colours into the “wheel” we know today in his Theory of Colours in 1810. Albert Munsell developed his Color System which was later adopted by the US Bureau of Standards later in the century. Of course, these standards would influence not only contemporary explorations of the science of vision, but the creative disciplines of art and design as well. 

(Images from VintageTreasureShop, Beats925Books, MOMA’s Inside/Out, Postcard Club of NYC, and Imprint)

– Erin Saunders