Goethe – a colour psychology pioneer

A pioneer describing the impact colour has on people is, perhaps surprisingly, the great poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

GoetheGoethe was well versed in the physical and chemical side of colour and felt compelled to write a "colour theory". He wanted to create an encyclopaedia of the world of colours and in 1810 he published the extensive work "Zur Farbenlehre". In the fifth section, labelled "The sensual-moral effect of colours", he describes the colours’ significance to man and its impact on his mood.

When you ask how the different colours affect us you must imagine an effect that is not a law, but which offers itself as an opportunity, an effect in the form of a response rather than a mechanical reaction. One cannot expect to be able to present these results as objective scientific "facts", said Goethe.

Goethe wrote about warm and cold colours and the various ways they could influence man because of hue. He mentions them as the plus side and the minus side colours.

Plus side colours are yellow, reddish yellow (orange), yellow-red (vermilion, cinnabar). They make the mind agile, lively and striving.

Minus side colours are blue, red-blue and blue-red. They give the mind a troubled, weak and longing sensation, said Goethe.