James Clerck Maxwell

It is difficult to explain to the outside observer just how famous Maxwell is amongst physicists. In addition to his «Theory of Colour Vision», which is seen as the origin of colorimetry, his name is linked to the four so-called field equations which are able to explain how light propagates, and thus point to the existence of electromagnetic waves. We make use of the reception of these waves today, for example when we listen to the radio. After discovering equations which could record colours, Maxwell placed the resultant combinations in a triangle, the corners of which were marked by the three primary spectral colours of red, green and blue. Each mixed colour lies on the line linking the separate components of the mixture. (Detailed text)


Date: James Clerck Maxwell, the physicist, presented his theory of colour mixing between 1855 and 1860.

Country of origin: England

Basic colours: Red, green and blue

Form: Triangle

Application: The system is a fundamental requirement for colorimetry.

Related systems: SowerbyHayterFieldHelmholtzBensonBezoldWundtRoodJacobsC.I.E.Gerritsen

Bibliography: J. C. Maxwell, «Experiments on colour», Transactions of the Royal Society Edinburgh 21, pp.275-298 (1855); J. C. Maxwell, «On the Theory of compound colours», Philosophical Transactions 150, pp. 57-84 (1860); E. G. Boring, «Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology», New York 1942; C.W. F. Everitt, «James Clerck Maxwell Physicist and Natural Philosopher», New York 1975.