General principals of colour theory were evident in writings of Leone Battista Alberti (c.1435) and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (c.1490). The first color wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton around the start of the 17th century. This color wheel was an arrangement of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet on a rotating disk.
Since the origination of the colour wheel by Newton, it has become one of the most powerful tools available to artists for explaining the relationship between colours.
The three primary colours are red, blue and yellow. The three secondary colours are green, orange and purple. These are made by mixing two of the primary colours. There are six other tertiary colours.
Using the primary colors, one can mix pretty much any colour in the spectrum.
Boutet’s 7-color and 12-color color circles from 1708
I am a little obsessed with colour wheels. They are like works of art in themselves, especially these historical hand-painted versions by some of the greats.
Color wheel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1809.
Nineteenth Century Colour Wheel – MerimeeColour theory proliferated in the 19th century. Merimee showed with his circle that complementary colours mixed to harmonious greys, an idea that attracted the interest of Delacroix. Field’s diagram illustrated the harmonic proportions of colours in light as well as the dynamics of warm and cool although his linear scale shows that he also had a traditional notion of the values between black and white. Field developed a set of ‘pure primaries’ to give practical expression to his ideas. It was the brilliant and stable properties of his pigments rather than the theories that appeal to painters.
George Field, A treatise on colours and pigments, and of their powers in painting, 1835