Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe proesented a circular diagram in which the three primary colours of red, blue and yellow alternate with the three secondary colours of orange, violet and green. Red occupies the uppermost place in the circle, and green the lowermost. The semi-circle from green, through yellow to red is known as the plus side; its opposite is the minus-side (Original drawing of Goethe). Goethe sought to surpass Newton’s system. With his insight into the sensual-moral effect of colours, Goethe comes nearer to his initial objective: namely, to bring order to the more chaotic, aesthetic aspects of colour. He places colouration within the separate categories of «powerful», «gentle» and «radiant» and, accordingly, sets down his concept. (Detailed text)

Date: The problem of colours had occupied Goethe from 1791. His work Theory of Colours appeared in 1810.

Country of origin: Germany

Basic colours: Yellow, blue and red [purple]

Form: Circle

Related systems: AguiloniusWallerNewtonRungeChevreulBezold

Bibliography: J. W. von Goethe, «Theory of Colours», Tübingen 1810; J. W. von Goethe, «Geschichte der Farbenlehre», parts I and II, Munich 1963; J. W. von Goethe, «Theory of Colours», didactic volume, Munich 1963; W. Heisenberg, «Die Goethesche und die Newtonsche Farbenlehre im Lichte der modernen Physik» in Gesammelte Werke, Volume CI, Munich 1984, pp. 146-160; John Gage, «Colour and Culture, Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction», Thames and Hudson, 1993, pp. 201 – 205.