By Nina J P Evans

Friday, May 03, 2013

A Visual Archive of Colour Systems

Interpretation of Pythagoras teachings by Aristotle 350BC

These colour systems are arranged in chronological order, starting with Pythagoras (350BC) and finishing with Wilhelm Ostwald (1916), rather than give further explanations, I’ve included all my references below. The colour wheel is something that most students of art take as a given, whilst studying the principles of design; it teaches us about colour values, hues and saturation not only that, but also there’s colour interaction, colour temperature and colour schemes. I became fascinated with the theme of colour, and was intrigued to find out who designed the first colour system. This is a study of the visual history of colour systems. If I said that they were intelligently designed, it would be an understatement! They illustrate a variety of visual solutions; that show the true complexity of seven colours, in terms of light theory, and how we perceive colour. 

Plato 350BC
Aguilonius, 1613
Robert Fludd, 1629
Richard Waller, 1686
Sir Isaac Newton, 1704
Tobias Mayer, 1745
In his work Natural Colour System, Moses Harris, 1766
Johann Heinrich Lambert, 1772
Ignaz Schiffermüller, 1772
Colour vision and the wave theory of light by Thomas Young, 1809
Later adopted by the Bauhaus by Otto Philipp Runge, 1810
Six colours, minus the indigo by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1810
Colour circle arranged like rose petals by Charles Hayter, 1830
Chromatic researcher George Fields, 1841
Developed Newton’s colour circle, Hermann Günther Grassmann, 1853
Michel-Eugéne Chevreul, 1861
Hermann von Helmholtz, 1867
Charles Blanc, 1867
The first colour cube was created by William Benson, 1868
Wilhelm von Bezold, 1876
Inspired by Fields’ colour circle, illustration by Irozu-Mondou, 1876
Ewald Hering, 1878
Charles Henry, 1889
Colour chart evoking flower petals by Charles Lacouture, 1890
Hermann Ebbinghaus, 1893
Colour-mixing apparatus by August  Kirschmann, 1895
Divided colour space into hue, lightness, and chroma: Albert Henry Munsell, 1905
Wilhelm Ostwald, 1916
Inspired by Wilhelm Ostwald’s colour system in the 1940’s.

Special Thanks to:


  1. You might enjoy this:

    1. Thank you for the book recommendation! I've never heard of it before but it sounds very interesting and useful for all those interested in the study/impact of colour.