Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory)
J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) was captivated by theories and notions of light, and colour: the title of "Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) - Morning after the Deluge, Moses is writing the Book Genesis" follows on from his reading Charles Eastlake's translation of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe's (1749-1832) "Theory of Colour" Zur Farbenlehre (1810). Goethe held the view that colour was composed of light and darkness, and provided an explanation for the way in which colours complement one another:
"Every decided colour does a certain violence to the eye and forces it to opposition."
Turner exhibited the work as one of a pair of paintings, together with Shade and Darkness at the Royal Academy in 1843, towards the end of his career, and when he was asked to explain the paintings he replied, "red, blue and yellow." These three being the painter’s traditional primaries. Turner contrasted light and dark with a radiant yellow sun ending a long period of darkness, and with the figure Moses contained within a central vortex of light; he composed a verse to accompany this picture:
"Th' returning sun
Exhaled the earth’s humid bubbles, and...
reflected her lot forms, each in a prismatic guise."
The Impressionist painter, Claude Monet (1840-1926) would subsequently attempt to capture the effect of pale, reflected light in his works Autumn at Argenteuil and Beach at Trouville. Monet was reserved in his praise of Turner, however, admitting in 1918 that:
« Dans le temps j'ai beaucoup aimé Turner, aujourd'hui je l'aime beaucoup moins.... Il n'a pas assez dessiné la couleur et il en a trop mis ; je l'ai bien étudié.»
(over the years I have liked Turner a great deal...but now I like him far less. There is not enough design in the use of colour, and there is too much colour).
Quoted by René Gimpel in Journal d'un collectionneur. Paris, Calmann Lévy, 1963.