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The Munsell Color System - Forward

by T. M. Cleland

"Color Anarchy is Replaced by Systematic Color Description" - Albert H. Munsell *

The Munsell Color System - Forward


In representing this pamphlet descriptive of the Munsell Color System, it is appropriate to sketch briefly the inception and development of the idea by the founder, Albert Munsell.

Mr. Munsell was fundamentally an artist. Upon graduating from the Boston Normal Art School, he was appointed instructor and awarded a three-year scholarship for the study of art abroad. After his return to this country he was made lecturer in Artistic Anatomy and Color Composition at the Normal Art School, he held this position with distinction for twenty-five years.

All throughout his student days Mr. Munsell was keenly aware of the lack of any practical theory of color. In fact, as far back as 1879, he placed two tetrahedrons base to base, applied balanced colors, and twirled them to produce a neutral gray. By 1898 he was spending all his spare time in widespread reading and experiment with the physical bases of pigment colors. He constructed a sphere on which were plotted a double set of spirals representing color sequences. From this model grew the evenly balanced Munsell Color Sphere, which demonstrates the exact relations of Hue, Value and Chroma. He also invented a small portable daylight photometer, which proved to be of the greatest assistance, not only in the measurement of colors, but also in the standardization of railroad signal lights. Most important of all, he accomplished the previously impossible task of publishing a standard color atlas.

By 1912 his work began to attract world-wide attention. In the spring of 1914 he was invited to present his invention at the meetings of the scientific societies of England, France and Germany. Although he contracted a severe cold on the voyage across, he was not willing to cancel any of his lectures. Enthusiastic audiences greeted him in London, Paris and Berlin. Large groups of ardent questioners kept him long over the scheduled time. This proved a heavy drain upon his already weakened constitution. In spite of his retirement from active work when he returned to this country, his health steadily declined until his death, June 28, 1918.

In February, 1918, a company bearing his name, Munsell Color Company, was incorporated with the threefold purpose of carrying on the scientific work which he had so ably begun, of furthering the introduction of his system into schools and colleges, and of taking the first steps in its application to the varied problems of the business world.

One of the first important applications of the system came in 1918, when the Strathmore Paper Company became interested in the project of making the Munsell Color System the basis of one of their distinctive advertising books. Mr. Munsell was deeply interested in this first application of his work, and agreed to write the introduction. As the work progressed, more and more interesting possibilities were discovered. Mr. T. M. Cleland was asked to write a popular explanation of the system to accompany Mr. Munsell's introduction.

Additional colored pages were added, until in the spring of the present year, [Editor's note - 1921] the Strathmore Paper Company published their beautiful book, "A Grammar of Color." It is with their kind permission that the Munsell Color Company is reprinting Mr. Cleland's remarkably simple and lucid article.

A. E. 0. Munsell

Wellesley Hills, Mass.

Nov. 1, 1921

* "Color Notation," Geo. H. Ellis, Boston, 1919, page 76.

Continue on to Chapter 1 - Color Hue


Forward Chap 1, Hue Chap 2, Value Chap 3, Chroma Chap 4, Color Wheel Chap 5, Complementaries Chap 6, Color Balance Chap 7, Color Combinations App 1 Summary and Usage App 2 Usage Examples App 3 Hue Nomenclature About This Book

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