How Our Eyes Read Color

How Our Eyes Read Color

The Scientific Justification of Neo-impressionist Color Theory

Last semester, I wrote a paper discussing the impact scientists Michel Eugène Chevreul and Ogden Rood had on the lead neo-impressionist artists Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, and Camille Pissarro. Through the analysis of Eugène Chevreul’s The Law of Simultaneous Contrast and Harmonization of Colors (1885) and Ogden Rood’s Modern Chromatics (1879), conclusions can be drawn on how their principles impacted the neo-impressionists’ paintings in the development of divisionism.

Basically, it is all about how are eyes see colors in relationship to other colors. Instead of giving you the twenty-five-page paper that would bore you to death, I am just going to give you the fun and interesting stuff!

The neo-impressionists used the scientific principles of color to develop the painting method known as divisionism. This is the dividing and recomposing of color using dots of chromatic analogous and complementary colors to create the optical impression of the intended color when viewed at a certain distance. As an example, you can see how our eyes optically blend colors when viewing a neo-impressionist painting up close versus far away.

Divisionism was loosely based upon Chevreul’s law of simultaneous contrast, successive contrast, and mixed contrast.

The Law of Simultaneous Contrast states that if we look at two strips of the same color at the same time next to different colors of the same tone side by side, the eye perceives changes in intensity of color and optically mixes the colors as well. Here is an example:

As you can see, the red appears brighter in the blue square, even though bother circles are the same hue.

Notice how are eye perceives the "x" differently in juxtaposition of each color!

Next, Successive contrast occurs the moment at which the eye having stared at a color object for a length of time, upon turning the gaze away sees an after image of those objects in their complementary colors. Again, here is an example:

Look at the image of the flag for 30 seconds before looking at the black x. Your eyes should see an after image in complementary colors!

Last, mixed contrast happens when the eye perceives the complementary color of the object first seen and a new colored object at the same time. Here is an exaggerated example. This is most noticeable at the edges between colors.

Mixed contrast is very noticeable in Seurat's Bathers at Asnières. ca. 1884.

Ogden Rood’s writing and color diagrams impacted artist’s understanding of additive color mixing versus subtractive color mixing.

Neo-impressionists believed optical mixture to be superior to mixing colors on the palette. They attributed this to the subtractive quality of pigments, as opposed to the additive qualities of light. The idea is that the more pigments that are mixed, the less light that is reflected. Neo-impressionists found justification of their beliefs in Rood’s spinning disc experiments46. In them, Rood demonstrates if one spins a color wheel, instead of the wheel appearing black, it appears white instead because of the blurring of the colored wavelengths together. Thus came the belief of a hierarchy of optical mixture to palette mixing.

At first, it was assumed that the neo-impressionist paintings actually reflected the principles perfectly, but later in 1987, historians such as Alan Lee and John Gage began to disagree because of the subjectivity of the artists. It can be argued that the artists did not adhere directly to these scientific formulas and maybe did not even fully understand the principles or that the representation of these principles in the paintings is incorrect and exaggerated, but the scientific essays gave them inspiration and understanding to create the painting technique of divisionism. The scientific justification of the technique allowed it to transcend style and become a movement.

Nor can one deny their beauty!

Cover Image Credit: Michel Eugene Chevreul

Popular Right Now

When You Give A Girl A Dad

You give her everything

They say that any male can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a dad. That dads are just the people that created the child, so to speak, but rather, dads raise their children to be the best they can be. Further, when you give a little girl a dad, you give her much more than a father; you give her the world in one man.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a rock.

Life is tough, and life is constantly changing directions and route. In a world that's never not moving, a girl needs something stable. She needs something that won't let her be alone; someone that's going to be there when life is going great, and someone who is going to be there for her when life is everything but ideal. Dads don't give up on this daughters, they never will.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a role model.

If we never had someone to look up to, we would never have someone to strive to be. When you give a little girl someone to look up to, you give her someone to be. We copy their mannerisms, we copy their habits, and we copy their work ethic. Little girls need someone to show them the world, so that they can create their own.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her the first boy she will ever love.

And I'm not really sure someone will ever be better than him either. He's the first guy to take your heart, and every person you love after him is just a comparison to his endless, unmatchable love. He shows you your worth, and he shows you what your should be treated like: a princess.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her someone to make proud.

After every softball game, soccer tournament, cheerleading competition, etc., you can find every little girl looking up to their dads for their approval. Later in life, they look to their dad with their grades, internships, and little accomplishments. Dads are the reason we try so hard to be the best we can be. Dads raised us to be the very best at whatever we chose to do, and they were there to support you through everything. They are the hardest critics, but they are always your biggest fans.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a credit card.

It's completely true. Dads are the reason we have the things we have, thank the Lord. He's the best to shop with too, since he usually remains outside the store the entire time till he is summoned in to forge the bill. All seriousness, they always give their little girls more than they give themselves, and that's something we love so much about you.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a shoulder to cry on.

When you fell down and cut yourself, your mom looked at you and told you to suck it up. But your dad, on the other hand, got down on the ground with you, and he let you cry. Then later on, when you made a mistake, or broke up with a boy, or just got sad, he was there to dry your tears and tell you everything was going to be okay, especially when you thought the world was crashing down. He will always be there to tell you everything is going to be okay, even when they don't know if everything is going to be okay. That's his job.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a lifelong best friend.

My dad was my first best friend, and he will be my last. He's stood by me when times got tough, he carried me when I just couldn't do it anymore, and he yelled at me when I deserved it; but the one thing he has never done was give up on me. He will always be the first person I tell good news to, and the last person I ever want to disappoint. He's everything I could ever want in a best friend and more.

Dads are something out of a fairytale. They are your prince charming, your knight in shinny amour, and your fairy godfather. Dads are the reasons we are the people we are today; something that a million "thank you"' will never be enough for.

Cover Image Credit: tristen duhon

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

15 Thing Only Early 2000's Kids Will Understand

"Get connected for free, with education connection"


This is it early 2000's babies, a compilation finally made for you. This list is loaded with things that will make you swoon with nostalgia.

1. Not being accepted by the late 90's kids.


Contrary to what one may think, late 90's and early 00's kids had the same childhood, but whenever a 00's kid says they remember something on an "only 90's kids will understand" post they are ridiculed.

2. Fortune tellers.


Every day in elementary school you would whip one of these bad boys out of your desk, and proceed to tell all of your classmates what lifestyle they were going to live and who they were going to marry.


You could never read this book past 8 o'clock at night out of fear that your beloved pet rabbit would come after you.

4. Silly bands.

You vividly remember begging your parents to buy you $10 worth of cheap rubber bands that vaguely resembles the shape of an everyday object.

5. Parachutes.

The joy and excitement that washed over you whenever you saw the gym teacher pull out the huge rainbow parachute. The adrenaline that pumped through your veins whenever your gym teacher tells you the pull the chute under you and sit to make a huge "fort".

6. Putty Erasers

You always bought one whenever there was a school store.

7. iPod shuffle.

The smallest, least technological iPpd apple has made, made you the coolest kid at the bus stop.

8. "Education Connection"

You knew EVERY wood to the "Education Connection" commercials. Every. Single.Word.

9. " The Naked Brothers Band"

The "Naked Brothers Band" had a short run on Nickelodeon and wrote some absolute bangers including, "Crazy Car' and "I Don't Wanna Go To School"

10. Dance Dance Revolution

This one video game caused so many sibling, friend, and parent rivalries. This is also where you learned all of your super sick dance moves.

11. Tamagotchi

Going to school with fear of your Tamagotchi dying while you were away was your biggest worry.

12. Gym Scooters

You, or somebody you know most likely broke or jammed their finger on one of these bad boys, but it was worth it.

13. Scholastic book fairs

Begging your parents for money to buy a new book, and then actually spending it on pens, pencils, erasers, and posters.


Who knew that putting yogurt in a plastic tube made it taste so much better?

15. Slap Bracelets

Your school probably banned these for being "too dangerous".

Related Content

Facebook Comments