CHEVREUL, M.E. Exposé d'un moyen de définir et de nommer les couleurs, d'après une méthode précise et expérimentale...[title from table of contents]. In: Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France. Tome 33, text and plates bound separately. Text volume:  ll., lxxiii, , 944 pp. A few text diagrams. Atlas volume (wrapper title Atlas. Cercles chromatiques de M. E. Chevreul): title-leaf, uncoloured plate of a colour wheel with printed overslip, 14 plates of colour-printed steel engravings, of which 13 are of colour wheels and one is a fold-out plate of the spectrum. Text volume: thick 4to., 277 x 215 mm; Later half morocco over boards, preserving original printed blue wrappers. Atlas volume: Folio., Loose as issued in the original printed blue wrappers 359 x 272 mm, in a new cloth folding box. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1861.
First Edition of Chevreul's definitive application of his colour theory, published in the Memoires de l'Académie des Sciences. Written when he was 75 (he lived to the age of 102), this work systematizes Chevreul's earlier discoveries of the properties of colours and the principles of colour contrast, first formulated in his pathbreaking 1839 treatise, De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs. Chevreul was a chemist whose nearly 90-year association with the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle had commenced, under Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin, with the study of organic substances that make up dyes. These investigations led him to the directorship of the dyeing works at the Gobelins tapestry manufacture, where he turned his methodical mind to the properties of colour.
In the Loi he had "formulated for the first time the general principles and effects of simultaneous contrast, the modification in hue and tone that occurs when juxtaposed colours are seen simultaneously"(DSB). That work, aimed at an artistic rather than scientific audience, contained Chevreul's famous law: "two adjacent colours, when seen by the eye, will appear as dissimilar as possible, both in their optical composition and in the height of their tone." Chevreul's recommendation that painters attempt an imitation of nature by juxtaposing pure colours was taken up by the Pointilliste or Neo-Impressionist school led by Seurat and Signac, whose impact on the development of a new artistic vocabulary was considerable; and his influence extended into the twentieth century, with Robert Delaunay's coloured "simultaneous discs" and Ellsworth Kelly's experiments with Chevreul's colour theory.
In the present treatise Chevreul returns to the domain of science and pure technique, presenting the results of 25 years of painstaking research and experimentation. Building on his earlier work, he establishes a precise nomenclature of colours, applying specific technical meanings to the terms ton, gamme (colour scale) and nuance, and sets forth an exhaustive classification scheme of colours, applied to flowers and plants. His series of ten 72-segment chromatic circles, diagramming the variations in colour obtained by the progressive addition of black to the basic colours of red, yellow and blue, show nearly 15,000 different shades of colour. "Chevreul believed he had met the need for precise standards in the definition and use of colours and a way of faithfully reproducing any tone of colour. His circles and scales were valuable to the painter and dyer because they represented every possible colour modification" (DSB). This work is astonishing in its scope and precision. Chevreul's nomenclature remains in use today.
The marvelous colour wheels in this edition resemble some of the aquatints and lithographs used in the earlier work but were produced through a new method of colour printing using steel engraving, invented by René Henri Digeon, whose name appears in the plate imprints, and who first published the plates in 1855 (Cercles chromatiques de M. E. Chevreul, reproduits au moyen de la chromocalcographie par R.-H. Digeon, Paris: Digeon, 1855). His technique won first prize at the Exposition Universelle of 1855. A sculpted representation of Chevreul's chromatic circle is embedded in the floor of the Gobelins.
Pages i-lxxiii contain an unrelated article: "Éloge Historique de François Magendie," by M. Flourens (the physiologist Magendie had died in 1855). A beautiful copy of this very rare and strikingly beautiful study of colour.
Cf. Dictionary of Scientific Biography III, pp. 240-243. Cf. Norman Catalogue 468. Cf. En Français dans le Texte 237.
Item nr. 166846