Wilhelm Ostwald

The word «harmony» in the title aptly symbolises what Ostwald wanted to achieve with colours. Experience had shown him (and others) that some colour combinations could be seen as pleasant (or harmonious), while others were unpleasant. The question was why, and whether a law could be formulated. With his analysis of colour-harmony, Ostwald proceeds on the basis of his conviction that harmony is created by colour-order.A double-cone is put forward with one white and one black tip between which a stepped grey-scale is arranged, modelled according to a fundamental psychological law. The double-cone extends from a colour-circledivided into 24 segments (the full colours) which in turn stem from the four proto-colours of yellow, red, blue and sea-green. (Detailed text)

Date: Wilhelm Ostwald, the Nobel-prize winner for chemistry, compiled his Die Farbenfibel (The Colour Primer) in 1916/17 in the hope of developing a better understanding of their perceived harmonies.

Country of origin: Germany

Basic colours: Yellow, red, blue and sea-green

Form: Circle

Related systems: BezoldWundtHeringPopeCIELuther & NybergMüller IDINMüller IIN.C.S.

Bibliography: W. Ostwald, «Die Farbenfibel», Leipzig 1916; W. Ostwald, «Der Farbatlas», Leipzig 1917; F. Birren, «The Principles of Color», New York 1969; H. Hönl, «Die Ostwaldsche Systematik der Pigmentfarben in ihrem Verhältnis zur Young-Helmholtzschen Dreikomponenten-Theorie», Naturwissenschaften 21, pp. 487-494 and Naturwissenschaften 22, pp. 520-524 (1954); John Gage, «Colour and Culture, Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction», Thames and Hudson, 1993, pp. 247-250 and 257-260.