Goethe observed that colour arises at the edges, and the spectrum goethes theory of colour pdf where these coloured edges overlap. It was published in German in 1810 and in English in 1840. The book is a successor to two short essays entitled “Contributions to Optics”. Unlike Newton, Goethe’s concern was not so much with the analytic treatment of colour, as with the qualities of how phenomena are perceived.

Reddish-yellow edges overlap blue-cyan edges to form green. I had never found the least cause to doubt it, because I had no further interest in the subject. But how I was astonished, as I looked at a white wall through the prism, that it stayed white! That only where it came upon some darkened area, it showed some colour, then at last, around the window sill all the colours shone It didn’t take long before I knew here was something significant about colour to be brought forth, and I spoke as through an instinct out loud, that the Newtonian teachings were false.

Yet, by 1794, Goethe had begun to increasingly note the importance of the physiological aspect of colours. Newton was looking at a special case. Whereas Newton observed the colour spectrum cast on a wall at a fixed distance away from the prism, Goethe observed the cast spectrum on a white card which was progressively moved away from the prism As the card was moved away, the projected image elongated, gradually assuming an elliptical shape, and the coloured images became larger, finally merging at the centre to produce green. Moving the card farther led to the increase in the size of the image, until finally the spectrum described by Newton in the Opticks was produced The image cast by the refracted beam was not fixed, but rather developed with increasing distance from the prism. Consequently, Goethe saw the particular distance chosen by Newton to prove the second proposition of the Opticks as capriciously imposed. It does not arrogate to itself developing colours from the light, but rather seeks to prove by numberless cases that colour is produced by light as well as by what stands against it. Goethe’s theory of the constitution of colours of the spectrum has not proved to be an unsatisfactory theory, rather it really isn’t a theory at all.