Goethe's Colour Wheel

A Harmonious Interplay of Colour

Many artists and philosophers have concerned themselves with the nature and effects of colour.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the first to develop a six-part colour circle which gives a graphic illustration of the relation between the colours. The three primary colours yellow, red and blue form a triangle on the circle, and between them the secondary colours emerge that result from the mixture of the adjacent colours: green from the mixture of yellow and blue, orange from yellow and red, violet from red and blue. The colours situated opposite one another offer the greatest possible colour contrast and are known as complementary colours. 

If we draw a vertical line through the circle, we find the bright, warm colours on the right and the dark, cold ones on the left. To Goethe the effect of the various colours on the soul and the spirit was particularly important. So he attributes strengthening, warming and invigorating effects to the right-hand side of the circle, while those on the left are experienced as cooling and tranquillising. 

Johannes Itten, a painter and art teacher, extended the colour circle to a circle in twelve parts, by mixing the primary and secondary colours together. So we get red-orange as the product of red and orange, or red-violet from the combination of red and violet. 

This arrangement of the colours is to be found in all Stockmar products, and it constitutes the essential basis for art teaching in Steiner Schools. The beneficial and harmonious effect of the colour on the viewer adds to the pleasure of creative activity using Stockmars artists materials.