Author(s): R.C. DOUGAL
’S FIRST COLOURED LIGHT
SOURCES: ARTISTS’ PIGMENTS
James Clerk Maxwell Foundation, Scotland, UK.
A description is given of James Clerk Maxwell’s strategy, in his early study of the additive mixing of light from
He used the scattered daylight from known areas of card coated with artists’ pigments.
emerald green and ultramarine were the optimum choice of standards for red, green and blue, respectively.
They suited Thomas Young’s description of colour vision.
Maxwell’s design of an analogue device – his ‘colour
top’ – for varying the areas of the contributing pigments was remarkably simple.
His meticulous observations with
it allowed him to substantially further the understanding of perception of colour at the time, mid-19th century.
interpretation of a few very basic spectroscopic measurements on sunlight reflected from pigments are in line with
additive colour mixing of light, artists’ pigments, colour top, spectra.
Maxwell’s earliest research on the perception of colour used daylight reflected from artists’ pigments.
By observing in broadly repeatable ambient conditions, he was able to identify regularities in the perception
of combinations of light reflected from the range of colours provided by these pigments.
was guided in his design of equipment and strategy by the description of Thomas Young  of the most
likely structure of those light sensitive detectors in the human eye – cells called ‘cones’ because of their
shape – which are sensitive to colour.
Coloured image production, especially projected images but also
in colour photography , owes much to Maxwell’s researches.
So does the use of colour in the design
of objects across the whole range of manufacturing industry, and in the design of light sources.
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Paper DOI: 10.2495/978-1-84564-568-7/12
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