Colour Theory and Theorists – Goethe – Psychology of Colour

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Colour Theory and Theorists – Goethe – Psychology of Colour

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was a German poet, artist, and politician who was influenced by Newtons Colour Wheel Theory to further explore the psychological impact that colour has on mood and emotion. In 1810 Goethe published “Theory of Colours”, his doctrine of colours focused more on using language to describe the influence colours generate when our brain interprets color and how color combination create a certain feeling & atmosphere within the viewer. Goethe theories were human-orientated and based more on sensation than Science.

His first philosophy of colour was that Humans naturally find examples in nature to represent that colour and make sense & use of it.

In the second category, first, he suggested the concept of

Goethe also had a concept of ‘positive & negative’ colours. Positive being ‘warm’ colours and ‘negative’ being cool colours which create a certain atmosphere of either powerful, gently & radiant.

These are quotes taken from his book “Theory of Colours” on how certain colours can be perceived and create emotion and atmosphere.


In its highest purity it always carries with it the nature of brightness, and has a serene, gay, softly exciting character.


Red – Yellow

The red-yellow gives an impression of warmth and gladness, since it represents the hue of the intenser glow of fire.

Yellow – Red

In looking steadfastly at a perfectly yellow-red surface, the colour seems actually to penetrate the organ. It produces an extreme excitement, and still acts thus when somewhat darkened. A yellow-red cloth disturbs and enrages animals. I have known men of education to whom its effect was intolerable if they chanced to see a person dressed in a scarlet cloak on a grey, cloudy day.


This colour has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye. As a hue it is powerful — but it is on the negative side, and in its highest purity is, as it were, a stimulating negation. Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.


Red- Blue

Blue deepens very mildly into red, and thus acquires a somewhat active character, although it is on the passive side. Its exciting power is, however, of a different kind from that of the red-yellow. It may be said to disturb, rather than enliven.

Blue – Red

This unquiet feeling increases as the hue progresses, and it may be safely assumed, that a carpet of a perfectly pure deep blue-red would be intolerable. On this account, when it is used for dress, ribbons, or other ornaments, it is employed in a very attenuated and light state, and thus displays its character as above defined, in a peculiarly attractive manner.


The effect of this colour is as peculiar as its nature. It conveys an impression of gravity and dignity, and at the same time of grace and attractiveness.

red lips


The eye experiences a distinctly grateful impression from this colour. If the two elementary colours are mixed in perfect equality so that neither predominates, the eye and the mind repose on the result of this junction as upon a simple colour. The beholder has neither the wish nor the power to imagine a state beyond it.

Bowling green grass background.


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