London: John Murray, 1840. Decorative Cloth. First Edition in English of the German poet's important treatise on the theory of colors and their perception by humans. Demy 8vo (221 x 139mm): xlviii,423,pp, with hand-colored frontispiece and three further plates, two of which also hand-colored. Original blind-stamped brown cloth, spine lettered in gilt. Early indecipherable ink inscription to front paste down, twentieth-century ink inscription of "Talbot M. Rogers / 1933" to fly leaf. A handsome copy, in original publisher's binding, tightly bound and clean throughout with richly colored plates. Birren Collection 271. Herbert, "A Color Bibliography (Yale University Library Gazette, Vol. 49, No. 1), pp. 6-7. Ruhemann & Plesters, p. 457 (with interesting note). Robertson, Sir Charles Eastlake and the Victorian Art World, pp 54-55. Fine. Item #BB2317
Originally published in Berlin, in 1810, in two volumes, as Zur Farbenlehre, divided into three sections: “Didactic,” “Polemical," and “Historic.” This is Eastlake's 1840 translation of the “Didactic" section from Volume One, “Entwurf einer Farbenlehre” [“Outline of a Theory of Colours”]. Newton's explanation of the nature of color, announced in 1672, stemmed from his discovery that light, passed through a prism, exhibits a rainbow spectrum. Sunlight, Newton concluded, is therefore the combination of all colors, each of which exists in an "homogeneal" state. His theory was bitterly contested until the mid-nineteenth century, chiefly, in later years, by Goethe, most comprehensively in Farbenlehre, in which Goethe asserts that mood and emotion impact the way in which colors are seen. "Fundamentally, Goethe rejects Newton's theory of white light and colors and the doctrine of differential refrangibility in favor of an “Urphenomenon,” in which light and dark are combined. Color, Goethe posited, is complex and white is simplex. . . . In response to Newton, Goethe emphasizes that colors cannot be regarded in isolation from each other, that they interact and belong neither to objects, nor to individual observers or the eyes alone, yet result from an ongoing incomplete process which is complex and indicative of a certain evanescence and fragility. The processes of seeing colors are multiple and indicate an unfinished evolution of human seeing itself. . . . Goethe considered his Farbenlehre as important as any of his literary texts, even Faust, a similarly incomplete and magnificent project. Even though his views on color were and continue to be controversial, during the twentieth century there was a gradual rehabilitation of Goethe's scientific work, and it has become clear that it is no longer possible simply to state that Goethe was in error and with that dismiss his entire work on color. While his attempted refutation of Newton seems to be due to a misunderstanding [that color originates in black and white] and is based on outdated scientific assumptions, . . . Goethe drew fresh attention to color by claiming its universal power and its elementary nature and by pointing to its many differentiations and subtleties." (Literary Encyclopedia) J. M. W. Turner extensively annotated his copy of this book, and even included it in the title of an 1843 work: "Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory)—the Morning after the Deluge—Moses Writing the Book of Genesis." N. B. With few exceptions (always identified), we only stock books in exceptional condition, carefully preserved in archival, removable mylar sleeves. All orders are packaged with care and posted promptly. Satisfaction guaranteed. (Fine Editions Ltd is a member of the Independent Online Booksellers Association, and we subscribe to its codes of ethics.).