John Gage recounts the story told by the painter William Williams in 1787 about an entomological illustrator who, “living in a remote country, unacquainted with artists, or any rational system of colours, with a patience that would have surmounted any difficulties, had collected a multiplicity of shells of colour, of every various tint that could be discerned in the wing of that beautiful insect [the butterfly]; for he had no idea that out of two he could make a third, by this method he had collected two large hampers full of shells, which he placed on each side of him, and sometimes the individual tint he wanted, was half a day’s labour to find out. What excellence must he have arrived at, had he known how to mix his tints.”
This and much more on the history of the attempt to systematise colour, at colorsystem.com, which isn’t simply history, but also
… a reminder of the choices we have in understanding the world — either empirically or theoretically, symbolically or scientifically. Although the principles described are universal, a desire to fragment and inflict change is also evident: we can take the light of the sun, direct it through a prism and then, like Newton, bend the resultant spectrum into a circle; a distortion that conforms with our own physiology, and creates a closed environment to facilitate the imposition of our own meaning on the world. On the other hand, we can simply observe the straight line of the visible spectrum as it runs from heat and infrared, and continues onwards to ultraviolet and radio energy; in other words, we can try to accept the world as it really is, and the secrets it contains..
Yet to have a proper look around there, but there’s some excellent stuff. Thanks to Stephen for this one.