Who was Albert Munsell? How does he impact your world? Did you know that he is the founder of the common color theory principles taught today?
Professor Albert Munsell (1858-1918 Boston), was an artist of distinction and a gifted teacher of art.
He developed the first widely-used color system to make the description of color accurate and convenient. Munsell created his system to facilitate the teaching of color. The Munsell color system (originally called the Munsell Color Order System) is accepted throughout the world and has served as the foundation for other color systems/theories.
Below is an example of one of his paintings.
In 1917, Albert Munsell founded the Munsell Color Company. Later, in 1942, the Munsell Color Foundation was formed by the company to promote the advancement of the science of color. Ultimately, the Munsell Color Foundation led to the founding of this laboratory, the Munsell Color Science Laboratory, in 1983, at the Rochester Institute of Technology.The latter still exists today.
These are sample pages from Munsell’s book, the Atlas of Munsell Color System (1915).
The way you visually match color today is the result of Albert Munsell’s work of nearly a hundred years ago.
For years, scientists had studied the mechanics of color going as far back as Newton’s early color wheel. It was not until Munsell’s pioneering studies and teaching methods had anyone combined the art and science of color into a single color theory. His groundbreaking work laid the foundation for today’s understanding of color principles.
Imagine being a painter and not knowing and understanding the basic color vocabulary of: values, chroma (intensity) and hue? He gave us a language from which we benefit as each of us learns more about the complexities of color in our paintings. His descriptions of hue, value, and chroma gave us the three dimensional view of color.
An artist and an educator, Munsell developed his color theory to bring clarity in understanding color through an orderly system. One of his goals was to assist in accurately identifying every color that exists. Munsell based his system on what he defined as “perceived equidistance” — the human visual system’s perception of color. (Isn’t that a mouthful and something you rarely hear come out of an art teachers mouth?) He also wrote A Color Notation in 1905.
Professor Munsell stated, “Music is equipped with a system by which it defines each sound in terms of its pitch, intensity, and duration, without dragging in loose allusions to the endlessly varying sounds of nature. So should color be supplied with an appropriate system, based on the hue, value, and chroma of our sensations, and not attempting to describe them by the indefinite and varying colors of natural objects.” It would have been fascinating to speak with him now wouldn’t it?
Do you find Munsell’s color system easy or difficult to comprehend? Are you grateful for his contributions?
Munsell not only impacted the art world, he and his company have continued to influence all of us through continued study of color and offering products to assist artists as well as the digital world.
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