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  • Published: 15 March 1970
  • ISBN: 9780262570213
  • Imprint: MIT Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 468
  • RRP: $90.00

Theory of Colours



By closely following Goethe's explanations of the color phenomena, the reader may become so divorced from the wavelength theory—Goethe never even mentions it—that he may begin to think about color theory relatively unhampered by prejudice, ancient or modern.By the time Goethe's Theory of Colours appeared in 1810, the wavelength theory of light and color had been firmly established. To Goethe, the theory was the result of mistaking an incidental result for an elemental principle. Far from pretending to a knowledge of physics, he insisted that such knowledge was an actual hindrance to understanding. He based his conclusions exclusively upon exhaustive personal observation of the phenomena of color.Of his own theory, Goethe was supremely confident: “From the philosopher, we believe we merit thanks for having traced the phenomena of colours to their first sources, to the circumstances under which they appear and are, and beyond which no further explanation respecting them is possible.”Goethe's scientific conclusions have, of course, long since been thoroughly demolished, but the intelligent reader of today may enjoy this work on quite different grounds: for the beauty and sweep of his conjectures regarding the connection between color and philosophical ideas; for an insight into early nineteenth-century beliefs and modes of thought; and for the flavor of life in Europe just after the American and French Revolutions.The book does not have to be studied to be appreciated. Goethe's subjective theory of colors permits him to speak most persuasively of color harmony and aesthetics. In some readers these notions will evoke a positive response on their merits. Others may regard them as pure fantasy, but savor the grace and style of their exposition.
The work may also be read as an accurate guide to the study of color phenomena. Goethe's conclusions have been repudiated, but no one quarrels with his reporting of the facts to be observed. With simple objects—vessels, prisms, lenses, and the like—the reader will be led through a demonstration course not only in subjectively produced colors, but also in the observable physical phenomena of color. By closely following Goethe's explanations of the color phenomena, the reader may become so divorced from the wavelength theory—Goethe never even mentions it—that he may begin to think about color theory relatively unhampered by prejudice, ancient or modern.

  • Published: 15 March 1970
  • ISBN: 9780262570213
  • Imprint: MIT Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 468
  • RRP: $90.00

About the author

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfurt-on-Main in 1749. He studied at Leipzig, where he showed interest in the occult, and at Strassburg, where Herder introduced him to Shakespeare's works and to folk poetry. He produced some essays and lyrical verse, and at twenty-two wrote Götz von Berlichingen, a play which brought him national fame and established him in the current Sturm und Drang movement. This was followed by the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774, which was an even greater success.

Goethe began work on Faust, and Egmont, another tragedy before being invited to join the government of Weimar. His interest in the classical world led him to leave suddenly for Italy in 1786 and the Italian Journey recounts his travels there. Iphigenia in Tauris andTorquato Tasso, classical dramas, were written at this time. Returning to Weimar, Goethe started the second part of Faust, encouraged by Schiller. In 1806 he married Christiane Vulpius. During this late period he finished his series of Wilhelm Master books and wrote many other works, including The Oriental Divan (1819). He also directed the State Theatre and worked on scientific theories in evolutionary botany, anatomy and color. Goethe completed Faust in 1832, just before he died.

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