Isaac Newton’s Opticks, or, A Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light. London: Printed for Sam. Smith, and Benj. Walford, printers to the Royal Society, 1704.
English natural philosopher Isaac Newton published Opticks in 1704. The work summarizes his extensive experiments with the refraction and diffraction of light and speculates that light is made up of particles.
The work was significant not only for the development of the relatively new field of optics, but also revolutionized color theory. Through Newton’s experiments, he was able to prove that light, rather than being devoid of color, is actually composed of the different spectral hues of the rainbow, each of which refracts at a different angle. All colors, he posited, are composed of various mixtures of these hues. Newton believed color was predictive based on which hues were mixed and arranged the spectral hues in a circle—the first color wheel—to illustrate his idea.
Before entering Bowdoin College’s collection, this book belonged to Boston artist John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), who had been given it by clergyman Mather Byles (1706-1788).
Ogden N. Rood’s Students' Text-book of Color; or, Modern Chromatics, with applications to art and industry. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1895.
In Modern Chromatics, physicist Ogden N. Rood (1831-1902) shares the results of his many experiments with color. The work explains, in an accessible language, the physical laws that govern colors, including constants of color, color-mixing, and the duration of the impression of color on the retina.
The French translation of Rood’s work was well known to the Impressionist painters and influenced Pointillist Georges-Pierre Seurat among others.
A. M. Perrot’s Manuel du coloriste, ou Instruction complète et élémentaire pour l'enluminure, le lavis et la retouche des gravures, images, lithographies, planches d'histoire naturelle, cartes, géographiques et plans topographiques [Colorist’s Handbook, or Complete and Elementary Instruction for the Enlightenment, Wash and Retouching of Engravings, Images, Lithographs, Natural History Plates, Maps, Geographical and Topographic Maps]. Paris: A la Librarie encyclopédique de Roret, 1834.
In the era before color printing techniques, hand-colored plates were completed by an anonymous watercolorist, rather than the illustrator.
This practical manual for the colorist provides an in-depth review of the instruments and utensils needed for coloring, instruction on composition and quality, a guide to mixing and using color, and information about the different types of illustrations a colorist would encounter.
Dr. Shinobu Ishihara’s The Series of Plates Designed as Tests for Colour-Blindness. Tokyo: Kanehara & Co., 1937.
Dr. Shinbou Ishihara, then-Professor of Ophthalmology at the Imperial University of Tokyo, first issued his pioneering test for congenital color-blindness in 1917. The test is still in use today a century later.
The simplicity of the pseudoisochormatic design—requiring no intermediary technology and relying primarily on Arabic numerals—allowed the test to be easily applied in the field, with this edition specifically referring to the examination of railway employees and Navy recruits, while providing instructions and keys in English, French, and German.
With this seventh edition (1937), the plates first jumped from twenty-four to thirty-two in number. Given the precision of the color-printing, each copy of the Ishihara test has since become quasi-unique; this one having belonged to the famed surgical instrument-making firm of John Weiss & Son. A warning on the book states: “The plates must be kept out of the sunlight when they are not in use, for the colouring undergoes a gradual change by exposure to light.”
Gerald H. Thayer’s Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom: An Exposition of the Laws of Disguise through Color and Pattern. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1909.
In this book, artist Abbott H. Thayer and his son Gerald asserted and illustrated their views about how animals use natural camouflage to conceal themselves from predators. Although Thayer's biological ideas were controversial, aspects of his color theories were subsequently applied to military camouflage during World War I.
Rockwell Kent, then a student of Thayer's, contributed a depiction of a 'copperhead snake on dead leaves' for this work. From this first book illustration, Kent would go on to have a long and successful career illustrating books, along with painting and writing.
Owen Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament. London: Day and Son, 1856.
Architect, designer, and design theorist Owen Jones (1809–1874) produced The Grammar of Ornament in the early days of chromolithography. It was a monumental publishing achievement. The work includes full-color illustrations documenting patterns and design motifs from nineteen cultural periods and the natural world.
In its early iteration chromolithography was an elaborate and expensive process. In Jones’s work, to produce each illustrated page up to twenty individual lithographic plates were required, one for each color. The plates were printed in layers to achieve the final colored illustration.
The Grammar of Ornament has remained in print to this day, a testament to its enduring visual and design appeal.