Just before my book, “Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter,” was about to go to press last June, I happened to stop by a secondhand book shop and noticed a book on the shelf called “The Colorist,” by J. A. H. Hatt.
Here was a title I had never heard of before. The date of the book was 1908. What really grabbed me was the subtitle: “Designed to Correct the Commonly Held Theory that Red, Yellow, and Blue are the Primary Colors, and to Supply the Much Needed Easy Method of Determining Color Harmony.”
I bought the book, brought it home, read it, and was thunderstruck. Here was the very same theory that I’ve been developing on my own, and which I thought was new and revolutionary.
In essence, Hatt’s premise is exactly the same as mine: instead thinking of red, yellow, and blue as the primary colors, we should be replacing them with magenta, yellow, and cyan. (Note that what he calls "violet" is the same as what I call "blue" on the Yurmby wheel. The difference is a matter of semantics, and we're both talking about a kind of violet-blue.)
Anyway, printers in Hatt's day were just discovering this new was of thinking of the color wheel. They made the switch then and never looked back.
Magenta was a new color to the world of printing in Hatt’s day. He was acquainted with the chemist who developed one of the first formulations for magenta ink, and he warned readers of the book not to hold the pages open too long to sunlight, or the rare ink would fade.
The second novelty of Hatt’s book is his method for developing color harmonies, using templates laid over a gradating color wheel. This also was a lot like the system I had struck upon independently, but instead of graying the color wheel at the center, his went to white in the middle, and carried dark tones in outer rings.
And according to the text of the book, there were supposed to be gamut masks or templates in the back of the book, but unfortunately, they were missing in my copy.
(My own work in the area of gamut masking owes much to Walter Sargent’s 1923 book, “The Enjoyment and Use of Color,” reprinted by Dover). Link to Amazon for Sargent's book here.
So what’s new is old, I guess. Anyway, you can read Hatt’s book yourself on a free downloadable PDF courtesy of Google Books.
--My book, due out in November, is: Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter
--Wikipedia gives a good overview of the history of thinking about primaries
--And so does Bruce MacEvoy in Handprint.com
--(added) And David Briggs on HueValueChroma
--Previously on GurneyJourney (Feb 2010): Rethinking the Color Wheel
--If you live in the Pasadena, California area, please come to my workshop tomorrow, Sunday, that covers this stuff.