The Subjectivity of Colours

In Zur Farbenlehre (On the Doctrine of Colours), published in 1810, Goethe advances that warm colours are produced by the weakening of light towards darkness and that cold colours come from darkness brightening up into light, as exemplified by dusk and dawn respectively. Goethe also stated that warm colours evoke “gaiety and happiness”, whereas cold ones made “restless, susceptible and anxious impressions”.

Following the translation of Goethe’s Zur Farbenlehre into English in 1843, J. M. W. Turner, disagreeing with Goethe’s theory on what emotions warm and cold colours convey, was inspired to paint two scenes of the biblical Flood: Shade and Darkness – The Evening before the Deluge, an evening of warm colours announcing a gloomy event, and Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – The Morning after the Deluge, Moses writing the Book of Genesis, an alleged morning of hope and promises  “alleged”, because Turner did not think that God had held his promise of never taking life again.



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