The Book of Colour Concepts: A New 800-Page Celebration of Color Theory, Including Works by Newton, Goethe, and Hilma af Klint

The Book of Colour Con­cepts will soon be pub­lished by Taschen in a mul­ti­lin­gual edi­tion, con­tain­ing text in Eng­lish, French, Ger­man, and Span­ish. This choice makes its abun­dance of explana­to­ry schol­ar­ship wide­ly acces­si­ble at a stroke, but even those who read none of those four lan­guages can enjoy the book. For it takes a deep dive — with Taschen’s char­ac­ter­is­tic visu­al lav­ish­ness — into one of the tru­ly uni­ver­sal lan­guages: that of col­or. Through­out its two vol­umes, The Book of Colour Con­cepts presents more than 1000 images drawn from four cen­turies’ worth of “rare books and man­u­scripts from a wealth of insti­tu­tions, includ­ing the most dis­tin­guished col­or col­lec­tions world­wide.”

Repro­duced with­in are selec­tions from more than 65 books and man­u­scripts, includ­ing such “sem­i­nal works of col­or the­o­ry” as Isaac Newton’s Opticks and Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe’s Zur Far­ben­lehre, as pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

Kate Moth­es at Colos­sal adds that “read­ers will also find stud­ies from Col­or Prob­lems, the ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry hand­book by Emi­ly Noyes Van­der­poel, which described the­o­ries that would trend in sub­se­quent decades in design and art, like Joseph Albers’s series Homage to the Square.” In The Book of Colour Con­cepts’ 800 pages also appear a vari­ety of works that don’t belong, strict­ly speak­ing, to the field of col­or the­o­ry, such as a botan­i­cal note­book by the spir­i­tu­al­ist and ear­ly abstract artist Hilma af Klint.

Co-authors Sarah Lowen­gard and Alexan­dra Loske bring seri­ous cre­den­tials to this endeav­or: Lowen­gard is a his­to­ri­an of tech­nol­o­gy and sci­ence with more than 40 years’ expe­ri­ence as an “arti­san col­or-mak­er,” and Loske is an art his­to­ri­an and cura­tor who spe­cial­izes in “the role of women in the his­to­ry of col­or.” Both would no doubt agree on the spe­cial val­ue of revis­it­ing the his­to­ry of this par­tic­u­lar sub­ject here in the ear­ly twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, with all its dis­course about the dis­ap­pear­ance of col­or from our every­day lives. It’s wor­ri­some enough that spo­ken and writ­ten lan­guages out­side the Eng­lish-French-Ger­man-Span­ish league seem to be declin­ing; rel­e­gat­ing our­selves to an ever-nar­row­ing vocab­u­lary of col­or would be an even graver loss indeed.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Goethe’s Col­or­ful & Abstract Illus­tra­tions for His 1810 Trea­tise The­o­ry of Col­ors: Scans of the First Edi­tion

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete High-Res­o­lu­tion Dig­i­tal Scan

William Blake’s 102 Illus­tra­tions of The Divine Com­e­dy Col­lect­ed in a Beau­ti­ful Book from Taschen

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

The Woman Who The­o­rized Col­or: An Intro­duc­tion to Mary Gartside’s New The­o­ry of Colours (1808)

A Vision­ary 115-Year-Old Col­or The­o­ry Man­u­al Returns to Print: Emi­ly Noyes Vanderpoel’s Col­or Prob­lems

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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