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Organising Colours: Patrick Syme’s Colour Chart and Nomenclature for Scientific Purposes

Giulia Simonini

Résumés

Cet article vise à reconstituer l’élaboration de la nomenclature des couleurs proposant un tableau de 108 couleurs distinctes, publié en 1814 dans un ouvrage intitulé Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours […]. L’auteur du livre, Patrick Syme, était un peintre professionnel de la Wernerian Society d’Édimbourg. Le titre du livre et le nom de la Société font référence à la même personne: le minéralogiste allemand Abraham Gottlob Werner, qui en 1774 élabora une nomenclature de couleurs, dont s’inspira la brochure de Syme. On s’intéressera à la manière dont Syme s’est approprié l’héritage de Werner, en analysant le contenu et les intentions de sa brochure, et en étudiant sa réception auprès des scientifiques britanniques du xixe siècle.

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  • 1 Edinburgh University Library, Centre for Research Collection, RB S.449, and Stadtbibliothek Wintert (...)

1In 1814, the Edinburgh-based publisher James Ballantyne printed the first edition of Werner's Nomenclature of Colours, with Additions, Arranged so as to Render it Highly Useful to the Arts and Sciences, Particularly Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Morbid Anatomy. Annexed to which are Examples Selected from Well-Known Objects in the Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral Kingdoms. Werner's Nomenclature is a small duodecimo displaying 108 colour swatches, which are still quite well-preserved in the existing copies I have inspected.1

  • 2 Hereafter simply Wernerian Society.
  • 3 An independent co-educational day and boarding school in Scotland founded in 1818, see (McEwan 566; (...)

2The author was Patrick Syme Esq., the most renowned Scottish flower painter of his time (Halsby and Harris 217). Syme specialized in watercolours of plants, fruits, birds and insects but painted botanical subjects in oil as well (McEwan 566; Halsby & Harris 217). Syme was born on 17 September 1774 in Edinburgh, where he studied botany and entomology. In 1803 he became a drawing-master and began teaching amateur lady artists travelling to Edinburgh (Irwin 237; Mallalieu 207; Dixon). As soon as the series of exhibitions of the Society of Artists of Great Britain in Edinburgh was established (1808), Syme’s artistic production received much appreciation (McEwan 566). On 3 December 1811 Syme was appointed painter to the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society. For the Society, he made drawings of fruits and flowers to be published in their transactions. In the same year, Syme was also “designated painter of objects in natural history to the Wernerian Natural History Society” (Dixon).2 At his art classes in Edinburgh Syme met his future wife, the aristocrat Elizabeth Boswell of Balmuto. Syme and Boswell, his most accomplished and talented pupil, eloped for a secret marriage in 1817, causing great scandal and incurring the displeasure of her family (Irwin 237; McEwan 566; Halsby & Harris 217; Mallalieu 207; Dixon). Syme belonged to the group of artists that founded the Royal Scottish Academy in 1826, in open opposition to the traditional Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts. During the first official meeting of the Academy Syme even took the chair (McEwan 566; Halsby & Harris 217; Mallalieu 207; Dixon). Later in life, Syme taught art at the Dollar Academy.3 He died at the age of seventy on 22 July 1845.

  • 4 Several treatises with the same purpose had already been printed in the eighteenth century. For ins (...)

3Werner's Nomenclature was neither the first nor the last work written by Syme. In 1810, he had already published the manual Practical Directions for Learning Flower-Drawing. Practical Directions was closely related to his teaching activity in Edinburgh. It was intended as a teaching aid and fits into a tradition of similar artists’ manuals produced mainly for women.4 Later, in 1823, Syme published a Treatise on British Song Birds, where he put into practice the use of Werner's Nomenclature, the publication here discussed.

  • 5 Particularly interesting is another treatise by J. C. Ibbetson, An Accidence, Or Gamut, of Painting (...)

4Unlike the book on flower drawing published by Syme four years before, Werner’s Nomenclature does not belong to a well-defined literary genre and appears to be quite unusual in the context of early nineteenth-century British book production. From the sixteenth century onwards, painting in oil and watercolours developed into a pastime for the upper classes, thus treatises on the arts and practical manuals became a very popular and common genre throughout Europe (Shapiro 609). Lists of pigments’ names were incorporated into these how-to-do-it books for amateur artists (Harley). Sometimes colour charts were included. Because of their intent, these colour charts displayed mostly pigments and seldom colour mixtures. For instance, Ibbetson’s Process of Tinted Drawing (1794) presented nine swatches of pigments from gamboge to Prussian blue and only three different shades of grey. James Roberts in his Introductory Lessons […] (1800) displayed swatches of thirteen hues and eight mixtures. Furthermore, proper names for colour mixtures were rarely provided by these manuals. For example, Roberts described the first mixture in his colour chart as “Lake and Indigo or Prussian blue make Purple” (Roberts plate 6).5

  • 6 For instance, between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century in C. B (...)
  • 7 The author of this treatise has been identified as either G. Brown, whose name appears on the third (...)

5Interestingly, more extensive colour charts appeared prior to 1814 in English manuals on flower drawing and colouring, thus in the same field in which Patrick Syme had published his first book.6 These colour charts differed from those of other artists’ treatises mentioned above because they showed more swatches of colour mixtures and provided a first, although modest, attempt at naming them. In 1797 the anonymously published A New Treatise on Flower Painting […] presented fifty-nine swatches of colour mixtures divided into thirteen varieties (green, yellow, orange, blue, pink, purples, brown etc.). The anonymous author provided specific names only for some green shades, like apple green, pea green or grass green.7

  • 8 Riley’s colour chart of his Royal Portable cabinet was published again in 1813 within a new version (...)

6Similarly, the pencil and colour maker George Riley published a colour chart with fifty-four shades in A Concise Treatise on the Elementary Principles of Flower-Painting and Drawing in Water Colours Without the Aid of a Master (1807). The chart explained how to mix as many colours as possible from the twelve watercolour cakes contained in the Royal Portable Cabinet sold by Riley. Riley provided some green shades with names similar to those published in A New Treatise on Flower Painting mentioned above.8

7The book published by Syme differed widely from artist’s treatises both in its content and purposes. Werner’s Nomenclature combined an extensive chart presenting simple colours and colour mixtures with a nomenclature and references to the natural world for chromatic comparison. Syme filled this work with colour charts (thirteen leaves out of sixty-three) that provided “a nomenclature of colours with proper coloured examples of the different tints, as a general standard to refer to in the description of any object” (Syme 1). Thus, Syme’s colour chart was not intended to sell watercolour cakes or teach the art of colouring to amateur artists, but provided a standard colour terminology for scientific descriptions. Indeed, the book was intended for English-speaking scientists in the fields of zoology, botany, chemistry, mineralogy, and anatomy (Syme 3).

  • 9 The colours are listed in Appendicula de colorum differentiis & nominibus; deque pilorum plumarumqu (...)

8As we have seen, colour names in English appeared mostly in practical treatises and corresponded to pigment names. On the other hand, Latin colour terminology had a long tradition in natural philosophy. In the British Isles an important contribution was made by Walter Charleton, who in 1677 listed hundreds of colour names originating from five simple and five mixed colour categories. Charleton provided the Latin names with their translation into English.9 However, from the eighteenth century onwards scholars started to perceive the classical use of colour names as too vague and introduced more purpose-oriented terms (Stearn 233). Moreover, with the transition to English in scientific texts colour terminology had to be systematised and popularised. Indeed, Syme commented that “names of colours are frequently misapplied; and often one name indiscriminately given to many colours” (Syme 3).

9By matching specific names of colours and their samples, Syme endeavoured to establish a common colour terminology that left little room for doubt or misunderstanding and that English-speaking scientists could rely on for a precise description of plant, animal and mineral specimens and other natural phenomena, so as to overcome the problems relating to chromatic nomenclature he had emphasised. Syme was not the only one to suggest this solution. A similar attempt had been presented almost 130 years before by the draughtsman and fellow of the Royal Society, Richard Waller, who published in 1687 (N.S.) A Catalogue of Simple and Mixt Colours, with a Specimen of Each Colour Prefixt to Its Proper Name. With his book Waller hoped to set a standard of colour appearances provided with instructions to reproduce them, with a standard terminology to be used by natural philosophers when describing plants and animals (Waller; Harley 37; Lowengard; Kusukawa 7). Waller’s catalogue marked an important step forward in colour systematisation for scientific purposes, but its reception by scientists has not been ascertained yet. Syme seems to have been unaware of it and drew upon other sources to develop his colour nomenclature that will be analysed in the two central sections of this article. Before doing that, I will describe the structure and content of Syme’s work.

Syme’s nomenclature of colours

10Patrick Syme devised a comprehensive colour chart that included 108 colour samples, each accompanied by a common colour name and explained by examples from the three natural kingdoms. By using Syme’s nomenclature, scientists could pick the most suitable colour term to describe the natural world in a standardized way. The annexed colour chart was used as a comparative tool: the scientist could juxtapose a specimen, say a plant, with colour samples contained in it, to identify the appropriate hue for the description of that plant. The examples taken from the natural world provided a further reference during the identification process.

  • 10 Seven whites, eight greys, seven blacks, ten blues, eleven purples, sixteen greens, fourteen yellow (...)

11Syme called the 108 colours in his chart “standard” (Syme 5), meaning by that that these selected colours were the most common in nature. He also made clear that their number could be “multiplied upwards of thirty thousand” (Syme 7), if each standard colour was further qualified by adjectives like “pale”, “deep”, “dark” or “bright”, or by the verb “tinged with” followed by another colour term (Syme 6). Syme subdivided his nomenclature into ten main groups of colours: whites, greys, blacks, blues, purples, greens, yellows, oranges, reds and browns. Each group listed between seven and seventeen standard colours.10 Moreover, Syme associated each standard colour with instructions that explained its “component parts” (Syme 10). These instructions provided scientists with basic information on colour mixing in order to figure out how each hue was obtained (Syme 9-10).

  • 11 Gamboge is a deep yellow pigment extracted from a resin, sometimes given other names (Eastaugh 170- (...)

12However, these instructions were not colour recipes as commonly meant in art technology, but suggested a first impression of the origin of each standard colour. Indeed, Syme used his standard colour names to formulate these instructions. For instance, the standard colour number 62, which he called primrose yellow, is a compound of gamboge yellow, sulphur yellow and snow white (Syme 32). Unlike snow white, gamboge and sulphur yellow are also artists’ pigments, but in this context, they are Syme’s standard colours.11 Gamboge yellow is standard colour number 65 (Syme 33) and sulphur yellow number 61 (Syme 32).

  • 12 Whites: 1 table, 9 rows; Greys: 1 table, 9 rows; Blacks: 1 table, 8 rows; Blues: 1 table, 11 rows; (...)

13Syme organized his colour chart in tabular form, covering thirteen pages of his booklet. On each leaf was displayed a single table, subdivided into six columns and seven to twelve rows.12 The numbers of the standard colours are listed in the first left-hand column while the names in the second column are the sample patches of colours. Finally, in the last three right-hand columns Syme provided references to the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms respectively. For mineral references, he drew upon the work of Robert Jameson, a Scottish geologist and natural historian, whereas plants and animals were Syme’s own contribution. Perhaps, as a former student of botany and entomology, he felt entitled to do so. For instance, the fifth table illustrates eleven types of purple from number 34, called bluish lilac purple to 44, called pale blackish purple (Fig. 1). The chart has seven empty fields, because Syme was not able to find suitable references among animals, plants or minerals. For instance, pale blackish purple shows only one match in the mineral kingdom.

Fig. 1: Syme’s purple colour chart

Fig. 1: Syme’s purple colour chart

Patrick Syme, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours […] (Edinburgh: Ballantyne, 1814), plate “Purples” (no pagination). University of Edinburgh Main Library, Special Collections, S.B..752 Wer.

  • 13 Jameson was Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh. He remained Preside (...)

14Werner's Nomenclature was published three years after Syme’s appointment as painter of objects in natural history to the Wernerian Society, a learned society named after the German geologist and mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner. The Wernerian Society was founded in 1808 by Robert Jameson, previously mentioned.13 He was “one of the greatest apostels” (Sweet & Waterston 81) of Neptunism, the theory of the earth for which Werner was best known.

  • 14 Werner is entitled to the honour of having suggested it [the colour nomenclature]. […] for the aut (...)

15The chronology of the events, that is, Syme’s appointment at the Wernerian Society and his publication of Werner’s Nomenclature, should not be seen as coincidental. Already in the title, Syme ascribes the authorship of his nomenclature to Abraham Gottlob Werner and mentions having been assisted by Robert Jameson in the compilation of the book.14

16Unlike A Catalogue of Simple and Mixt Colours by Richard Waller, Syme’s publication enjoyed a positive reception and was adopted by several outstanding scientists of his time. For instance, Charles Darwin used this nomenclature of colours during the Beagle Expedition (1831-36). I will deal with the reception of Syme’s nomenclature later, whereas now I will investigate the historical premises that prompted the publication. Who was Werner? What exactly was his nomenclature of colours on which Syme based his booklet? How did it work? How did Syme come across it?

Werner’s list of colours for mineral description

17In the eighteenth-century discussion on the distinction or equivalence between Newton’s seven primaries and artists’ three primaries, thus between real and apparent colours (Shapiro; Kemp 285-92; Boskamp 63-112), many natural historians contributed to the debate with their own opinion on colours. For instance, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who introduced the most influential classification of the natural sciences in the eighteenth century, considered colour an unreliable property of plants, animals and minerals. He stated that colour varied within the same species and its description was influenced by the personal judgment of the observer (Daston & Galison 59; Nickelsen, Draughtsmen 77; 161; Karliczek 85-86).

  • 15 Among the common generic characters of Fossils, the Colour is the first which strikes the senses. (...)

18Regardless of Linnaeus’s scepticism and encouraged by Newton’s theory of colours, from the mid-eighteenth century scientists attempted to standardize colours for further classification purposes (Boskamp 216-23). Abraham Gottlob Werner was one of them. In 1774, he published Von den äußerlichen Kennzeichen der Fossilien, that is: “On the external characteristic of fossils.” With this treatise, he provided a system to identify and describe minerals (at that time also known as fossils), according to their external properties. According to Werner the external characteristics of minerals were those detected by the five human senses. In his historical overview of these external properties, Werner harshly criticized their arrangement in Linnaeus’s system, as the Swedish botanist placed colour in the very last position (Werner & Weaver 17-21). On the contrary, Werner considered colour as the most significant property of minerals, crucial for their identification, and so listed it as the first one.15

  • 16 They included seven whites, six greys, four blacks, six blues, six greens, nine yellows, ten reds, (...)
  • 17 The treatise published by Jacob Christian Schaeffer is Entwurf einer allgemeinen Farbenverein [sic](...)

19The German mineralogist gave a list of eight principal colours for the identification and description of minerals: white, grey, black, blue, green, yellow, red and brown. He then subordinated several shades or varieties (Abänderungen) to each principal colour, increasing the list to fifty-four colours.16 Werner explained that he could not take into account Newton’s seven primaries nor the distinctions operated by artists between pure and mixed pigments, because these “pertain to the Theory of Colours […], and cannot be well applied in common life” (Werner & Weaver 38). Yet Werner’s list of principal colours was much indebted to that of the natural historian Jacob Christian Schaeffer, who had published in 1769 a method to systematise colour mixtures for hand-coloured natural history illustrations, to which a colour chart was annexed.17 To Schaeffer’s list of principal colours Werner added only grey, because “it occurs very frequently in the Mineral Kingdom” (Werner & Weaver 39). Thus, he selected the principal colours according to their frequency in the mineral kingdom (Fig. 2).

20Werner assigned to each colour variety a name and based his nomenclature on clear references to “substances in common life” (Werner & Weaver 40), such as milk white (Milchweiß) and apple green (Äpfelgrün), or pigment names, like mountain green (Berggrün). When a hue had no easy comparison in every-day life, he combined two colour names to deliver the idea of it, for instance greenish white (Grünlichweiß).

Fig. 2: Werner’s list of names of colours for mineral description and identification

Fig. 2: Werner’s list of names of colours for mineral description and identification

Abraham Gottlob Werner, Von den äußerlichen Kennzeichen der Fossilien (Leipzig: Siegfried Leberecht Crusius, 1774), plate 2, p. 128. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, Lith. 448. No known copyright restrictions.

  • 18 Werner kept only five names of colours from the list given by Schaeffer: straw yellow (Strohgelb), (...)

21Werner drew upon Schaeffer also for his nomenclature of colour varieties (or mixtures).18 Schaeffer had suggested three naming strategies for colour mixtures: naming colours after an important person; assigning a number to each compound; or using the name of the primary colour, say red, accompanied by the name of a common thing (Sache) that displayed this coloration (Schaeffer 14). Schaeffer listed some examples to clarify his last option: for instance, wax yellow (Wachsgelb), straw yellow (Strohgelb) or goldfinch yellow (Stieglitzgelb) (Schaeffer 14; 21).

22Whereas Schaeffer encouraged the use of a numerical code instead of names, Werner ruled out the possibility of denoting colours by numbers because they were not “sufficiently striking, independently of the difficulty of retaining them in the memory” (Werner & Weaver 40; Jones 237). His goal was to provide an established colour terminology for mineral description, thus the text was the main vehicle for information.

  • 19 In Abhandlungen von Insecten: Nebst XVI. Kupfertafeln mit ausgemahlten Abbildungen, Schaeffer even (...)
  • 20 For instance, Schaeffer suggested that all different colour mixtures be painted in a table subdivid (...)

23Schaeffer, instead, subordinated the value of text to coloured illustrations, of which he was a strong advocate.19 His treatise promoted the standardisation and reproducibility of colour mixtures by means of set recipes used for hand-coloured scientific plates. This solution was meant to tackle their recurrent unsatisfactory coloration, which was still accomplished by untrained colourists.20 To solve this problem, a nomenclature of colours was not indispensable and could be easily replaced by a numerical or alphanumerical system. Schaeffer and Werner thus represented two different epistemological views on colour standardisation in eighteenth-century natural history, emphasizing a fundamental dichotomy between visual and textual descriptions, image versus word.

24However, Werner’s nomenclature alone would have been difficult to use without the practical examples of his colour set. Therefore, Werner described how to mix each of the fifty-four colour varieties, and suggested one or more minerals as a visual reference for students. For instance, he described the red variation aurora red (Morgenroth) as a mixture of scarlet red and orange yellow, corresponding to the pigment minium and to the mineral crocoite (Werner 58); yellowish grey (Gelblichgrau) was “a pale-grey mixed with more or less yellow”, corresponding to argillaceous ironstone and chalcedony (Werner and Weaver 47). Students and mineralogists needed access to a mineral collection or another visual aid to be used as reference if they wanted to distinguish colour varieties according to Werner’s new method and then use it to describe minerals. Otherwise Werner’s nomenclature could be misunderstood, interpreted subjectively, or misapplied.

  • 21 See Jameson, A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 85-86. A. J. (...)

25In 1774, standard colour charts were very rare in natural history disciplines (Karliczek 92-108), thus mineralogists in general might have encountered difficulties in recognizing the colours aurora red or yellowish grey without the corresponding specimens indicated by Werner. To resolve this difficulty, Werner could have relied on Schaeffer’s colour chart, but Schaeffer never produced one for the mineral kingdom (Werner & Weaver 39). Therefore, Werner opted for the most obvious solution: he illustrated his nomenclature by means of a set of actual specimens of minerals, which Robert Jameson called “Colour-Suite of Minerals.”21

  • 22 Zu den vorzüglicheren Mitteln, die Farben ohne Fossilien anschaulich zu machen, gehören: 1) Farbta (...)

26Werner’s method aroused a great deal of interest and was greeted enthusiastically across Europe. His students and other mineralogists applied to Werner for similar sets. According to one of Werner’s students, Johann Friedrich August Breithaupt, there were four methods for creating a colour chart for mineral description. First, there were colour charts painted on paper. They were easy to prepare, but subject to decay over time. Second, one could use models made of swatches of coloured fabric. Third, colour charts could be prepared using common fruits, flowers, and insects as references. The fourth and last method consisted in using coloured porcelain tablets.22

  • 23 Other colour charts appeared in Méthode analytique des fossils (1797) by Henri Struve, and in Handb (...)
  • 24 For this information see Jameson, A Treatise on the External Characters of Minerals 22. It has been (...)

27Many of Werner’s students supplied their own mineralogy treatises with colour charts painted on paper as visual aid. Their charts were largely based on Werner’s suite of colours. For instance, colour charts to be used as reference for mineral description appeared in Handbuch des oryktognostischen Theils der Mineralogie (1794) by Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Widenmann, and in Versuch einer Mineralogie (1794) by Franz Joseph Anton Estner (Fig. 3).23 Werner himself wished to publish a colour chart for mineral description, but never accomplished it because of his scepticism about colour charts in paper form. Werner was of the view that colours applied on paper were unstable, and would eventually fade, thus becoming useless for descriptive purposes. As an alternative, Werner recommended colour tables prepared out of vitreous or porcelain enamel, whose colours were more resistant and durable. Their less practical transportability was the only downside.24

Fig. 3: Widenmann‘s table of colours for mineral description and identification

Fig. 3: Widenmann‘s table of colours for mineral description and identification

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Widenmanns, Handbuch des oryktognostischen Theils der Mineralogie (Leipzig: Siegfried Leberecht Crusius, 1794), plate 1. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Mg 5335-2

The early reception of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours in the British Isles

  • 25 The first edition was issued in 1784 and did not include Werner’s identification method based on th (...)
  • 26 Kirwan writes in the preface to his book: “for among several intelligent foreigners who have lately (...)

28In the second edition of Elements of Mineralogy (1794-96), written by the Irish geologist and chemist Richard Kirwan, we can find the first mention of Werner’s method in English sources.25 Even though Kirwan criticised the mere use of external properties to identify new specimens of minerals (Kirwan 25) he recognized the effectiveness of Werner’s method, and thus quoted Werner’s nomenclature of colour with several amendments.26

  • 27 Thomas Weaver and Robert Jameson were among many students from all over Europe who applied to study (...)
  • 28 Before Weaver’s translation, Werner’s treatise was translated into Hungarian by Ferentz Benkö in 17 (...)
  • 29 Hereafter Tabular View.
  • 30 Indeed, Werner never published a new edition of his 1774 treatise. The sources used by Weaver are: (...)

29In the British Isles, Werner’s method was later popularised by two of his former students: the English geologist, Thomas Weaver, and Robert Jameson, the above-mentioned founder of the Wernerian Society.27 In 1805, Werner’s German treatise was officially translated into English by Thomas Weaver with the title A Treatise on the External Characters of Fossils.28 But one year before, Jameson published Tabular View of the External Characters of Minerals for the Use of Students of Oryctognosy,29 which presented the first translation of Werner’s list of external properties of minerals, including an extended version of the original nomenclature of colours. The following year Jameson’s Treatise on the External Characters of Fossils appeared. This was a clear tribute to the German mineralogist and drew extensively upon Werner’s 1774 book (Wagenbreth 165; Ospovat 225-26). Here, Jameson listed a register of colour names (5-15) and added also the 1804 Tabular View with additional names in German, French and Latin (Appendix 1-4). Both the Tabular View and Jameson’s colour register listed seventy-nine names of colours. On the other hand, Weaver’s translation reported seventy-four colour terms. Thus, neither author adhered to the original nomenclature of colours compiled by Werner in 1774. Jameson legitimated his colour list in the advertisement, arguing that he had received the Tabular View directly from Werner. Weaver, instead, did not acknowledge this updated version and – compelled by the significant advances in the science of mineralogy since 1774 (Werner & Weaver in Advertisement) – integrated other reliable and more updated sources into the text.30

30Jameson listed four names of colours, namely velvet black, plum blue, broccoli brown and pineblack brown, that had never been published previously. According to Jameson, these were varieties of colours selected by Werner himself. Kirwan, Weaver and Jameson did not complement their nomenclature with a colour chart for reference, contrarily to what many other students of Werner had already done. None of the authors gave an explanation for this choice. In Kirwan’s and Weaver’s cases it is possible to assume that their books were not explicitly intended to teach Werner’s method, as one work was a translation and the other was even critical towards the mere use of external properties of minerals for identification purposes.

  • 31 Jameson writes indeed: “many attempts have been made to delineate the different colours that occur (...)
  • 32 See Jameson, A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 85-86. Accor (...)

31It is more difficult to explain why Jameson did not include a colour chart, though. A possible answer is that Jameson relied on mineral specimens, or on other visual aids assembled by the students themselves, to teach the differences between colour varieties.31 For instance, we know that Jameson owned one of Werner’s “Colour-Suite of Minerals,” very likely an ensemble of small pieces of ore, perhaps mounted on a base.32 This “Colour-Suite” represented the starting point for Patrick Syme’s own edition of Werner’s nomenclature of colours. In the following section I will discuss how Syme’s reedited the nomenclature of colours compiled by Werner and whether he improved it or not.

Syme’s edition of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours

  • 33 James Sowerby was also a member of the Wernerian Society (Sweet 211).

32As previously mentioned, it is likely that Patrick Syme became aware of Werner’s colour list after his appointment as the painter to the Wernerian Society (1811). It is plausible that Jameson showed his “Colour-Suits of Minerals” to Syme and asked him to produce a “delineation of all the varieties” to make “this collection as generally useful as possible” (Jameson, A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 85-86). Perhaps, Jameson applied to Syme for a delineation of his “Colour-Suits of Minerals” after the criticism he received in 1809 from the artist and natural historian James Sowerby. Sowerby labelled Werner’s colour mixtures – as described by Jameson in 1805 – as “unnatural”, “absurd” and “a confounded mess” (Sowerby 1809).33 Another text might have encouraged Syme’s involvement in the creation of a colour nomenclature with actual colour samples: in 1813, the English naturalist Thomas Foster urged the compilation of “a systematic arrangement of colours” with references to “the proportions of the various mixtures” (Foster, Arrangement 119; 121).

33Perhaps Jameson hoped to respond to Foster’s call and defend Werner’s method by replying to Sowerby’s criticism with the help of another artist. As a well-established artist and painter of “objects in natural history to the Wernerian Society,” Syme was skilled in accurate colour reproduction; thus to Jameson he must have looked like the perfect candidate for the job. Jameson’s request resulted in the first edition of the colour atlas, which Syme entitled Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours.

34To create his colour chart, Syme did not draw upon Werner’s original nomenclature, but relied on the Tabular View published by Jameson in 1804 and again in 1805 as he stated that “Werner’s suites of colours extend to seventy-nine tints” (Syme 5). Both the Tabular View and Jameson’s own colours register listed exactly seventy-nine colour terms, whereas the original colour list compiled by Werner in 1774 had only fifty-four colours. As discussed at the beginning of this article, Syme’s colour chart presented 108 swatches; therefore he added to the colour terms presented in the Tabular View twenty-nine new colour hues. The reputation of Syme’s book among British scientists, that will be discussed later, was due partly to the explicit homage he paid to the highly esteemed scientific authority of Abraham Gottlob Werner, but partly also to Syme’s own merits. By means of five ingenious editorial choices, Syme was able to put together a very attractive product.

35Werner and all his disciples published nomenclatures of colours for the sake of colour identification and description in mineralogy. Syme, instead, addressed his nomenclature to many scientific disciplines namely those listed on the title page: zoology, botany, chemistry, mineralogy and anatomy. By his own admission, Syme increased the original nomenclature of colours exactly to encompass all these branches of knowledge (Syme 5). This decision was certainly suggested by the desire to reach a greater audience, and it might have been encouraged by the presence of many experts in different fields within the Wernerian Society itself. The Society numbered among its members renowned geologists, physicists, engineers, botanists, zoologists, explorers, surgeons, anatomists and also artists (Sweet 210-15). In a book published in 1816, Jameson advertised Syme’s work furnishing a detailed list of the potential uses of his colour nomenclature in several other disciplines than those listed by Syme. He suggested the application of the colour chart in agriculture, vegetation cartography, pathology, meteorology and hydrography (Jameson, A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 82-85).

Orange and purple

  • 34 He [Syme] copied the colours of these minerals, and found the component parts of each tint, as men (...)
  • 35 Werner, in his suites of colours, has left out the terms Purple and Orange, and given them under t (...)

36Even though Syme acknowledged the selection of colour varieties made by Werner,34 he detected a serious bias in Werner’s list of principal colours. When Werner compiled Von den äußerlichen Kennzeichen der Fossilien, the chromatic terminology was not his main concern, but it was part of a larger plan of teaching how to correctly identify minerals and properly describe them. From the artists’ perspective though, Werner’s list of principal colours was lacking in two fundamental categories: orange and purple. Werner had excluded orange and purple from his list of principal colours and characterised them as yellow and blue categories.35 However, orange and purple had long been recognized by artists as independent hues resulting from the mixture of two primaries. Orange and purple had appeared as colour terms in many English treatises for the past two centuries. For instance, in 1677 Charleton had included purple among the main compounds in his Appendix to the Exercitationes (Charleton 72). Ten years later, Richard Waller had inserted the terms orange and purple in his A Catalogue of Simple and Mixt Colours […]. Orange was listed as one of the seven colours of the spectrum by Newton. The anonymous author of A New Treatise on Flower Painting […] (1797) clearly classified both orange and purple as colour mixtures different from yellow and blue, and in 1809, Sowerby included both orange and purple among the binaries, that is, secondary colours (Sowerby 30).

  • 36 Particularly relevant might have been Theory of Colour and Vision (1777) by George Palmer; Sowerby (...)

37Since Syme was an artist, for the sake of his project entirely dedicated to colours he had to alter drastically the original structure of Werner’s widely accepted list of colours. The nomenclature had to be modified according to the most updated colour theories and needed major changes to solve technical problems.36 Thus, Syme extended the original list of principal colours according to the rules of artists’ colour mixing, ranking both orange and purple as independent and separate principal hues. The majority of the new colour terms introduced by Syme resulted from this adjustment: he added seventeen new varieties of purple and orange alone.

Technical quality

38Contrarily to what Werner advocated, Syme conceived his colour chart in paper form. It was the most convenient material to produce a colour chart: light, transportable, and cheap. Besides, many of Werner’s disciples had already published a paper colour chart based on Werner’s nomenclature in their treatises on mineralogy. However, the quality of these colour charts must have been unsatisfactory given that Jameson commented on them as follows:

Many attempts have been made to delineate the different colours […] Wiedenmann, Estner, Ludwig, and several others, have published tables of this kind; but all of them were deficient, not only in accuracy, but also in durability (Jameson, A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 86).

  • 37 Franz Joseph Anton Estner says that for the colour chart displayed in his Versuch einer Mineralogie(...)

All these colour charts had one thing in common, namely that the colours had been painted directly on one or more pages of the book. The paint applied on many of these colour charts shows today great decay, caused primarily by the use of low-cost artists’ materials like pigments and paper grounding, by the lack of a paint coating, but also by wear and tear. Moreover, we know that the colour mixtures for one of these charts had not been prepared by an artist but by a cartographer. At least for one of these charts, technical inexperience and lack of know-how in colour mixing was the reason for its poor quality.37

  • 38 This system was not devised by Syme, for another anonymous book entitled Wiener Farbenkabinet and p (...)
  • 39 Compare with note 1 above.

39On the other hand, Syme was a trained artist and was well acquainted with the tools of the trade. He knew that since his publication was conceived as a working tool, it had to endure time, wear and tear. Thus, to avoid a quick deterioration of the paint, Syme made several experiments to obtain stable and durable colour mixtures (Syme 14). He then painted the colours onto another paper sheet, possibly prepared with grounding. This sheet was cut into small square chips that were then pasted onto the page.38 Syme still warned the reader that the booklet had to be handled carefully and that the colour samples should not be exposed to the sun too frequently and for too long, otherwise they would fade (Syme 14). Similarly, Syme excluded from Werner’s nomenclature all colours with a metallic prefix or suffix, like silver white or red copper, because “they would soon tarnish” (Syme 11) and make the book look shabby. From the copies held in different libraries one can consider that he succeeded in making a high-quality product as the colour swatches are very well preserved and still splendid to observe in the majority of cases.39

Chart layout and book size

40Syme’s colour chart appears very different when compared to the charts published by Franz Joseph Anton Estner (see Fig. 4) and Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Widenmann (Fig. 3 above).

Fig. 4. Estner’s table of colours for mineral description and identification.

Fig. 4. Estner’s table of colours for mineral description and identification.

Franz Joseph Anton Estner, Versuch einer Mineralogie (Vienna: Joseph Georg Oehler, 1794), plate 2. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Mg 5338-1. 

41Both Estner and Widenmann presented their colour tables on one side and the relating colour terms and references separately. The reader had to browse the book and find the page where the colour term relating to a colour sample was listed to get the information he or she wanted.

42We do not know whether Syme was aware of these books or had inspected them since he gives Werner as his only source, even though we now know that it was actually Jameson’s publication. It might be plausible that Jameson had showed him Estner’s and Widenmann’s colour charts for comparison. Unlike Widenmann who displayed all his colour samples on a single leaf, Syme arranged the standard colours according to their specific principal colour; for instance all oranges appeared on one colour chart. This choice was possibly due to the greater number of standard colours in Syme’s chart (74 vs. 108). Furthermore, as already discussed in the section on Syme’s nomenclature of colours, he gathered all his information onto one single page. This improvement proves that Syme aimed at creating a more useful working tool. In doing so, Syme allowed the scientists to have all the details they needed at hand. His nomenclature came in a light, portable format which was ideal for field work and travels.

43Compared to Syme’s, Widenmann’s and Estner’s charts were bulky and not very suitable for such a purpose. Indeed, Widenmann’s Handbuch des oryktognostischen Theils der Mineralogie (1794) was a book in two volumes totalling 1040 pages, and the first volume of Estner’s Versuch einer Mineralogie (1794) alone comprised almost 300 pages.

Nomenclature

  • 40 He changed milk white to skimmed milk white, blackish lead grey to blackish grey, steel grey to Fre (...)

44Syme changed twelve denominations in Werner’s nomenclature of colours, as given by Jameson in Tabular View (Syme 43). Syme did not justify his terminological amendments, but for half of the names it is possible to understand the reasons that prompted the change. Four names resulted from the addition of the two new colour groups, orange and purple, and the other two were modified because of their metallic features rejected by Syme.40 Besides these twelve terms, Syme introduced thirty-six new colours and left no colour group untouched. Among Werner’s original groups, Syme altered mainly the yellow group by adding five new hues, whereas the least revised group is grey, for which he only amended two terms given by Werner.

45Nevertheless, taking old and new principal colours altogether, the most improved category is purple with eight new hues. The increase in purple shades had surely nothing to do with the discovery of mauveine (1856), but it might, perhaps, be linked to cudbear, a purple dyestuff. This was patented by the industrial chemist Gordon Cuthbert (bap. 1730-1810) in England in 1758 and in Scotland in 1759 (McConnell). Besides, the discovery of chrome yellow made by the French chemist Louis Nicolas Vanquelin in 1797 might have contributed to Syme’s extension of the yellow group. Chrome yellow was manufactured and available in England from 1814, but earlier use of this yellow pigment is evident in Sir Thomas Lawrence’s paintings (Eastaugh 205).

  • 41 Both Walter Charleton and Richard Waller mention it.
  • 42 In London, Franklin received four pounds of silk which he had dyed “into a French grey ducape, whic (...)

46With his nomenclature, Syme contributed to the popularisation of many common colour names, like snow white, French grey, primrose yellow and wood brown. To some extent, he also contributed to their introduction into scientific practice. Whereas the colour term snow white had a long tradition,41 according to Aloys John Maerz and Morris Rea Paul, Patrick Syme was the first to name or record French grey (Maerz & Paul 159). However, French grey was a popular colour shade very much in fashion, an account of which can be found in a letter by Benjamin Franklin to his wife, dated 1773.42

47Other colour terms within Syme’s nomenclature bear witness to the cultural turmoil and scientific progress of the early nineteenth century. For instance, Syme split the colour term blood red into two different terms: arterial blood red and venous blood red. This correction might have been inspired by the research on blood by the Scottish surgeon John Hunter.

Reception

  • 43 The advertisement was published in a list of all books printed by Ballantyne for William Blackwood (...)

48Syme's book was particularly well-received and a second edition came out in 1821, with the addition of two more colour varieties: Scotch blue and purplish red. Although he did not explicitly mention the practical uses of his book, he clearly conceived it as a tool for field work. It was lightweight, compact and had all the information relating to a colour on the same page (Jones 240). The publisher Ballantyne, who printed Syme’s volume, advertised it suggesting that “Besides the sciences above mentioned […] Warehouses of Merchants, Manufacturers, Dyers, &c.” could make good use of it. And he added: “Commercial Travellers will also find this Work an excellent pocket companion.”43

49However, it is likely that Jameson was the first to suggest its scientific use in the field, perhaps during voyages of exploration. He writes:

the meteorologist, and the hydrographer, by the use of an accurate and standard table of colours, will be enabled, in a much more satisfactory manner than heretofore, to describe the skies, and meteors of different countries, and the numerous varieties of colour that occur in the waters of the ocean, of lakes and rivers. (Jameson, A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 85)

  • 44 In his memorial to the death of his daughter Anne Elizabeth, Darwin remembers that “she would spend (...)

50Four months before embarking on the H.M.S. Beagle, Charles Darwin wrote to his friend the botanist John Steven Henslow “Keep Syme on colours in your mind” (Correspondence 148-50). Darwin was here referring to Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, and, perhaps, considering taking it on board of the Beagle. It is not known how Darwin discovered Syme’s book, but it is plausible that it happened during the years Darwin spent at the University of Edinburgh (1825-1827). In his autobiography, Darwin says that in Edinburgh he occasionally attended the meetings of the Wernerian Society as well as Robert Jameson’s lectures in geology (Autobiography 12-14; Correspondence 18-20). In his private library in Kent (today at Cambridge University Library), Darwin kept a spotless copy of the second edition, which very likely was not the same as that in the Beagle’s library (Correspondence 150; Keynes 10).44

  • 45 This information can be found both in Jenyns (Introduction x) and in The Correspondence of Charles (...)

51During his expedition, Darwin took consistent notes of the colours of his specimens at the time they were collected. Leonard Jenyns reports that during the voyage of the Beagle, fish specimens were described by Darwin using the nomenclature of colours by Patrick Syme. Moreover, Darwin informed him “that a comparison was always made with the book in hand, previous to the exact colour in any case being noted” (Jenyns x). The specimens were afterwards preserved in spirit, and shipped to Europe, but the liquor dramatically altered the original colour of the specimen, as explained by Jenyns some lines after.45 Therefore, noting down the original colours of the specimens was essential for scientists carrying out research during voyages of exploration, if they wished to publish books with correct and reliable information.

  • 46 Primrose yellow is standard colour number 62 in 1814 edition and number 63 in the second. This colo (...)

52In 1832, Darwin was already using the second edition of Werner’s Nomenclature, as in a letter to Henslow he described the colour of a toad as ink black (standard colour 22), vermillion red (standard colour 85) and buff orange (standard colour 77) (Correspondence 279-82). Indeed, the colour variety ink black was not present in the first edition. Furthermore, in his Beagle field notebook from 1835, Darwin recorded the colour of a snake as primrose yellow, the standard colour number 63 provided by Syme (St. Fe Notebook).46 In 1839, Darwin also sent a notation of the colour of the sea to Alexander von Humboldt, explaining that he used colour terms according to “Werners nomenclature” (Correspondence 239-40).

  • 47 Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours is quoted in Appendix to Captain Parry's Journal of a Second Voyag (...)

53As well as Darwin, other scientists and explorers relied upon Syme’s booklet for the identification and description of colours. Among them there were Sir William Edward Parry the Arctic explorer, Sir John Richardson, a Scottish naval surgeon, the botanist Sir William Jackson Hooker, and the Egyptologist Sir John Gardener Wilkinson, to name but a few.47 Syme’s work was also used by later authors, who dealt with colour standardisation. For instance, in 1886 and in 1912, the American ornithologist Robert Ridgway (1850-1929) referred to (among other sources) the second edition of Werner’s Nomenclature in his books A Nomenclature of Colours for Naturalists and Colour Standards and Nomenclature. In the introduction to A Nomenclature of Colours for Naturalists (1886) he stated that Syme’s was the latest publication on the identification and description of colours for natural historians that he had been able to track down. In the bibliography to this work he listed the books he had consulted in order of their importance and Syme ranked fifth in the list. Ridgway evidently took up several names of colours introduced by Syme, without giving him much credit. For instance, we find primrose yellow (though listed as a modification of white), orpiment orange, greenish blue and auricola purple (Ridgway, Nomenclature 34-35).

54On the other hand, in his later publication, Ridgway acknowledged his terminological sources and explained that he labelled all colour terms adopted from older books with an asterisk (Standards 14). Among these terms, we find again several names introduced by Syme such as auricola purple, primrose yellow, previously accepted by Ridgway in 1886, and also new terms like French grey, pansy purple and wood brown (Ridgway, Nomenclature 29-40; Maerz & Paul 187). Interestingly, Ridgway drew upon Syme’s nomenclature for other colour terms, which, however, were originally given by Jameson in the Tabular View and thus dated back to Werner’s time.

*

55The colour terminology provided by Werner’s Nomenclature was not conceived for professional or amateur artists, but for scientists, particularly zoologists, botanists, chemists, mineralogists and anatomists. Thus, it was in Richard Waller’s words, “philosophical” (Waller 24; Kusukawa 7, 17). This book gave natural philosophers, namely scientists, a standard colour terminology for descriptions of fauna, flora, minerals and natural phenomena. As the title suggests, the system followed the method of the German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner, who proposed, inter alia, a nomenclature of colours for the identification and description of minerals. However, Werner’s was a plain list of fifty-four colour names, which relied upon a collection of mineral specimens or other visual aid to match colours. At the end of the eighteenth century Werner’s students began publishing tables of colours that helped other students of mineralogy to connect the term with the actual colour. Syme was encouraged by one of Werner’s greatest disciples, Robert Jameson, to realise a more qualitative product than the above mentioned tables of colours. Not only did he extend the nomenclature to 108 colours and to other disciplines, but he also created an effective pocket companion for field work.

  • 48 A description of this book can be found in Baty (139-44).

56In Britain, Syme’s book was the first to attempt a systematization of names for colour mixtures to be used in natural sciences, after the perhaps less successful attempt of Richard Waller’s A Catalogue of Simple and Mixt Colours (1687). According to Robert Ridgway, Syme’s volume maintained its primacy for almost thirty years, when David Ramsay Hay published A Nomenclature of Colours applicable to the Arts and Natural Sciences, to Manufacturers, and Other Purposes of General Utility (1845), which is, however, a very different work.48 Even though Syme’s nomenclature of colours was quite rudimentary, it can be considered as the precursor of many similar colour charts that appeared from the late-nineteenth century onwards and were used for scientific descriptions.

57At the beginning of this article I pointed out that Patrick Syme’s Werner’s Nomenclature does not belong to a clear literary genre. André Karliczek has persuasively grouped eighteenth and nineteenth-century colour systematisation practices in different categories: colour systems, colour reference systems and hybrids, according to their premises and intentions. According to Karliczek, the work by Werner’s precursor, Jacob Christian Schaeffer, falls into the category of colour reference systems because its primary colours are not based on other models (mathematical, metaphysical, theological etc.) but simply on real colours that are used as references (86-88). Unlike Schaeffer’s, Werner’s colour list lacks the colour chart which according to Karliczek distinguishes all classical colour reference systems (96) and – as we have seen – its intentions are different from Schaeffer’s system. Karliczek has classified Werner’s colour list as a Farbentabelle (table of colours), a sub-category of colour reference systems, with a selected number of colours (with or without samples) and merely devised for colour description in the natural world (101-02). Within this category, by extension, also fall all other tables of colour displayed in the works by Werner’s students. Consequently, according to this interpretation, Syme’s book can be ascribed to the genre of Farbentabelle, one that, thanks to Werner, was particularly popular in German-speaking publications. At present, further research is necessary to understand Syme’s work not only in terms of Werner’s legacy but within the context of British natural science, book trade and theories of colours.

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Notes

1 Edinburgh University Library, Centre for Research Collection, RB S.449, and Stadtbibliothek Winterthur, Farbsammlung Werner Spillmann, Magazin UG2. Height 20 cm, 63 pages of which only 43 are numbered.

2 Hereafter simply Wernerian Society.

3 An independent co-educational day and boarding school in Scotland founded in 1818, see (McEwan 566; Halsby & Harris 217; Mallalieu 207; Dixon).

4 Several treatises with the same purpose had already been printed in the eighteenth century. For instance, see the titles quoted by Blunt & Stearn 217-18; Page & Smith 81-87. On Syme’s life and publications compare with Irwin 237; McEwan 566; Halsby & Harris 217; Mallalieu 207; Dixon.

5 Particularly interesting is another treatise by J. C. Ibbetson, An Accidence, Or Gamut, of Painting in Oil and Water Colours (1803). On this see Harley 25-27.

6 For instance, between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century in C. Bowles, Bowles's Florist: [...] To Which is Added, an Accurate Description of their Colours (1774); A. Heckle, Bowles's Drawing Book for Ladies; or, Complete Florist (1785); J. Sowerby, An Easy Introduction to Drawing Flowers According to Nature (1788); G. Brown, A New Treatise on Flower Painting […] with Directions How to Mix the Various Tints, and Obtain a Complete… (1799-1803, with a colour chart); G. Riley, A Concise Treatise on the Elementary Principles of Flower-Painting and Drawing in Water Colours […] with Instructions for Mixing the Various Tints (1807, with a colour chart); E. Pretty, A Practical Essay on Flower Painting in Water Colours (1810, with a colour chart).

7 The author of this treatise has been identified as either G. Brown, whose name appears on the third edition (1799) or George Brookshaw, who plagiarized Brown’s book in 1816 and again in 1818, only to be recognized later by Lucy Wood as being the same person. See Lucy Wood, “George Brookshaw: The Case of the Vanishing Cabinet-maker,” Apollo Magazine 133, no. 351 (May 1991): 301-06); and “George Brookshaw, ‘Peintre Ebéniste par Extraordinaire‘ and the Case of the Vanishing Cabinet Maker II,” Apollo Magazine 133, no. 352 (June 1991): 383-97.

8 Riley’s colour chart of his Royal Portable cabinet was published again in 1813 within a new version of his treatise on flower painting with the title A New Practical Treatise on the Art of Flower Painting, and Drawing with Water Colours […].

9 The colours are listed in Appendicula de colorum differentiis & nominibus; deque pilorum plumarumque coloribus, the Appendix of Exercitationes de differentiis & nominibus animalium (61-78).

10 Seven whites, eight greys, seven blacks, ten blues, eleven purples, sixteen greens, fourteen yellows, six oranges, seventeen reds, and eleven browns.

11 Gamboge is a deep yellow pigment extracted from a resin, sometimes given other names (Eastaugh 170-71), and sulphur yellow is also known as orpiment, a pigment obtained from an arsenic sulphide mineral (Eastaugh 362).

12 Whites: 1 table, 9 rows; Greys: 1 table, 9 rows; Blacks: 1 table, 8 rows; Blues: 1 table, 11 rows; Purples: 1 table, 12 rows; Greens: 2 tables, 9 rows each; Yellows: 2 tables, 8 rows each; Oranges: 1 table, 7 rows; Reds: 2 tables, 10 and 9 rows; Browns: 1 table, 12 rows.

13 Jameson was Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh. He remained President of the Wernerian Society for the rest of his life (Dean).

14 Werner is entitled to the honour of having suggested it [the colour nomenclature]. […] for the author of the present undertaking went over Werner’s suites of colours, being assisted by Professor Jamieson [sic]” (Syme 4).

15 Among the common generic characters of Fossils, the Colour is the first which strikes the senses. It is also one of the most certain characters […]” (Werner & Weaver 36).

16 They included seven whites, six greys, four blacks, six blues, six greens, nine yellows, ten reds, and six browns.

17 The treatise published by Jacob Christian Schaeffer is Entwurf einer allgemeinen Farbenverein [sic] oder Versuch und Muster einer gemeinnützlichen Bestimmung und Benennung der Farben, translated by Kärin Nickelsen as “Plan for a Universal Relationship of Colours; or Research and Model for Determining and Naming Colours in a Way that is Useful to the General Public” (Nickelsen, Draughtsmen 167-74). For further information on this treatise see also Nickelsen, “The Challenge of Colour”; Lowengard; Karliczek 93-97; Nickelsen, “Illuminierungspraktiken”; Karliczek and Schwarz 302-05.

18 Werner kept only five names of colours from the list given by Schaeffer: straw yellow (Strohgelb), copper red (Kupferrot), carmine (Carmin), mountain green (Berggrün), and Isabelle yellow (Isabellenfarbe). He then developed his own nomenclature making use of common animals, flowers, vegetables, fruits and other familiar substances as references. Compare Fig. 1 with Schaeffer 14; 21-22.

19 In Abhandlungen von Insecten: Nebst XVI. Kupfertafeln mit ausgemahlten Abbildungen, Schaeffer even claims that black and white illustrations should be completely banned from scientific publications (xvi).

20 For instance, Schaeffer suggested that all different colour mixtures be painted in a table subdivided into boxes with a number placed next to each one, which on another page would be used to refer to the technical name and the recipe used to mix it (Schaeffer 7). On the hand-colouring of scientific plates see Nickelsen, “The Challenge of Colour”; Draughtsmen; and “Illuminierungspraktiken.”

21 See Jameson, A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 85-86. A. J. Maerz and M. R. Paul instead call it “Werner’s Suite of Colours” (Maerz and Paul 137).

22 Zu den vorzüglicheren Mitteln, die Farben ohne Fossilien anschaulich zu machen, gehören: 1) Farbtafeln. Sie sind am leichtesten zu verschaffen; haben aber das Schlimme, daß sie sich leicht mit der Zeit ändern. Die erdigen halten sich noch am besten. 2) Muster zu zeugen. Tücher, Seide. 3) Gegenstände aus dem Naturreiche. Besonders Blüten und Früchte; auch Insekten. Davon hat auch das Publikum schon vor längerer Zeit Gebrauch gemacht. So zeigt z.B. die sogenannte spanische Gresse das Morgenroth, die Veilchen violblau. 4) Am besten würden dergleichen Farbentafeln von Porzellan oder den Stiften zu der Mosaik sein” (Breithaupt & Hoffmann 3-4; Karliczek & Schwarz 362-63).

23 Other colour charts appeared in Méthode analytique des fossils (1797) by Henri Struve, and in Handbuch der Mineralogie nach A. G. Werner, zu Vorlesungen entworfen (1803) by Christian Friedrich Ludwig.

24 For this information see Jameson, A Treatise on the External Characters of Minerals 22. It has been argued that Werner might have used a collection of 253 porcelain tablets to teach his students how to properly distinguish colours in the mineral kingdom. Today only 249 tablets remain, which are kept at the Geowissenschaftliche Sammlung of TU Bergakademie in Freiberg. For in-depth analysis, see Paskoff & Baldauf; Karliczek & Schwarz 362-63.

25 The first edition was issued in 1784 and did not include Werner’s identification method based on the external characteristics of minerals.

26 Kirwan writes in the preface to his book: “for among several intelligent foreigners who have lately passed into this kingdom, to whom I exhibited a few specimens of various fossils, I met none, except those of the Wernerian school, who could truly distinguish them” (Kirwan x). Kirwan reduced the list to fifty-two colour varieties, and omitted an explanation for his revision.

27 Thomas Weaver and Robert Jameson were among many students from all over Europe who applied to study at the Bergakademie (Mine Academy) in Freiberg, Saxony, where Werner taught (Wagenbreth 164). Weaver went to Freiberg from 1790 (Wagenbreth 165), and later became a member of the Wernerian Society (Sweet 211). Robert Jameson went to the Mine Academy in 1800, but had already returned to Scotland in 1802, only to become Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh two year later (Wagenbreth 165; Sweet 205-06; Dean; Polenz 163).

28 Before Weaver’s translation, Werner’s treatise was translated into Hungarian by Ferentz Benkö in 1784, and into French by Claudine Guyton de Morveau in 1790 (Jones 238).

29 Hereafter Tabular View.

30 Indeed, Werner never published a new edition of his 1774 treatise. The sources used by Weaver are: the previously mentioned work Handbuch des oryktognostischen Theils der Mineralogie (1794) by Werner’s student Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Wiedenmann, Lehrbuch der Mineralogie (1799) by Ludwig August Emmerling, another of Werner’s students, and Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy (1794-96). A further source was “copies of Mr. Werner’s manuscript corrections and additions as circulated among his pupils, notes taken during his lectures in 1791-1792” (Werner & Weaver viii-ix). For instance, according to Weaver, he used Kirwan’s book explicitly as a source for the names given to the external properties of minerals, hence names of colours as well. However, it becomes evident that Weaver drew upon many colour terms that had already been introduced in 1794 by Widenmann, who extended Werner’s nomenclature of colours to seventy-four terms, and in 1799 by Emmerling, whose nomenclature of colours listed seventy-seven names. Some of the colour terms can also be found in other treatises on mineralogy by other students of Werner’s, for instance in Estner (44-57). From Kirwan, Weaver borrowed only one colour name: canary-green. The origin of the term pearl grey in Weaver’s translation is contentious, given that both Kirwan and Emmerling listed it (Emmerling, Lehrbuch vol. 1, 73).

31 Jameson writes indeed: “many attempts have been made to delineate the different colours that occur in the mineral kingdom, with the view of enabling those who do not possess a mineralogical collection, or who may not be familiar with colours, to know the different varieties mentioned in the description of mineralogists” (A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 85).

32 See Jameson, A Treatise on the External, Chemical, and Physical Characters of Minerals 85-86. According to Jameson’s text, we can furthermore deduce that this “Colour-Suite” was assembled under Werner’s supervision by Jameson’s friend, Heinrich Wilhelm Meuder. Meuder was Mining Inspector and Budget Secretary in Freiberg in 1811, and he died in July 1813 (Königlich-Sächsischer Hof- und Staats-Kalender 132; Hamberger 685). Meuder was also a member of the Wernerian Society. As Werner’s student or assistant, he might have created a Colour-Suite made out of small mineral samples to be used in the field for his friend Jameson. According to Syme’s account though, Jameson arranged “on a table, specimens of the suites of minerals mentioned by Werner, as examples of his Nomenclature of Colours” (Syme 4-5).

33 James Sowerby was also a member of the Wernerian Society (Sweet 211).

34 He [Syme] copied the colours of these minerals, and found the component parts of each tint, as mentioned by Werner, uncommonly correct” (Syme 5).

35 Werner, in his suites of colours, has left out the terms Purple and Orange, and given them under those of Blue and Yellow; but, with deference to Werner’s opinion, they certainly are as much entitled to the name of colours as green, grey, brown, or any other composition colour whatever, and in this work are therefore arranged in distinct places” (Syme 7-8).

36 Particularly relevant might have been Theory of Colour and Vision (1777) by George Palmer; Sowerby (1809); and perhaps Zur Farbenlehre (1810) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Interestingly, Goethe also was a member of the Wernerian Society, like Sowerby (Sweet 211).

37 Franz Joseph Anton Estner says that for the colour chart displayed in his Versuch einer Mineralogie […], he had rejected the work done by the first artist whom he had asked for advice and turned to the colour tables created for him by an Austrian cartographer named Johann Anton Ecker. While praising Ecker’s ability in many artistic and scientific fields, Estner reveals that Ecker was a self-educated person. Thus, he had not received the technical and artistic education in colour matter that Syme did (Estner 41).

38 This system was not devised by Syme, for another anonymous book entitled Wiener Farbenkabinet and published in Vienna in 1794, presents colour charts made of stripes of differently coloured paper pasted onto the book page. I would like to thank Dr. André Karliczek for having suggested this comparison to me.

39 Compare with note 1 above.

40 He changed milk white to skimmed milk white, blackish lead grey to blackish grey, steel grey to French grey, smalt blue to greyish blue, sky blue to greenish blue, violet blue to violet purple, plum blue to plum purple, lavender blue to lavender purple, orange yellow to Dutch orange, crimson red to lake red, columbine red to crimson red, and cherry red to brownish purple red.

41 Both Walter Charleton and Richard Waller mention it.

42 In London, Franklin received four pounds of silk which he had dyed “into a French grey ducape, which is a fashionable color, either for old or young women” (Franklin & Sparks 5).

43 The advertisement was published in a list of all books printed by Ballantyne for William Blackwood in 1814, on sixteen pages preceding Robert Kerr’s A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Arranged in Systematic Order […], Vol. 12 (1814). Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours is on page thirteen.

44 In his memorial to the death of his daughter Anne Elizabeth, Darwin remembers that “she would spend hours in comparing the colours of any objects with a book of mine, in which all colours are arranged & named.”, namely the second edition of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours (1821) (Correspondence 540-41).

45 This information can be found both in Jenyns (Introduction x) and in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1837-1843 where Darwin’s original letter is quoted in toto (230-32).

46 Primrose yellow is standard colour number 62 in 1814 edition and number 63 in the second. This colour variety was not named by Syme, but according to A. J. Maerz and M. R. Paul “was in use for over three hundred years” in Great Britain (Maerz & Paul 175).

47 Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours is quoted in Appendix to Captain Parry's Journal of a Second Voyage for the Discovery of a North West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific : […] in the years 18212223, London 1825 (287); in Richardson’s Fauna Boreali-Americana […], London 1829 (p. xxxv); in Hooker’s Supplement to the English Botany of the late Sir J. E. Smith and Mr. Sowerby, the Descriptions, Synonyms, and Places of Growth, Vol. II, London 1834; and in Gardner Wilkinson’s On Colour and on the Necessity for a General Diffusion of Taste among all Classes, London 1858 (91). On the other hand, Thomas Foster, the naturalist who argued for a “systematic arrangement of colours” in 1813, was perhaps still unaware of Syme’s work, as in 1823 he writes “A systematic arrangement of colours might be made […] by reference to flowers, and other standard substances. It would be well if we had a nomenclature for colours, which expressed them by reference to the proportion of the primitive tints of which they may be compounds” (Foster, Researches about Atmospheric Phaenomena 85 compare with Gage, 288 footnote n°. 96).

48 A description of this book can be found in Baty (139-44).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Syme’s purple colour chart
Crédits Patrick Syme, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours […] (Edinburgh: Ballantyne, 1814), plate “Purples” (no pagination). University of Edinburgh Main Library, Special Collections, S.B..752 Wer.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/1718/docannexe/image/1327/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 11M
Titre Fig. 2: Werner’s list of names of colours for mineral description and identification
Crédits Abraham Gottlob Werner, Von den äußerlichen Kennzeichen der Fossilien (Leipzig: Siegfried Leberecht Crusius, 1774), plate 2, p. 128. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, Lith. 448. No known copyright restrictions.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/1718/docannexe/image/1327/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,0M
Titre Fig. 3: Widenmann‘s table of colours for mineral description and identification
Crédits Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Widenmanns, Handbuch des oryktognostischen Theils der Mineralogie (Leipzig: Siegfried Leberecht Crusius, 1794), plate 1. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Mg 5335-2
URL http://journals.openedition.org/1718/docannexe/image/1327/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 6,4M
Titre Fig. 4. Estner’s table of colours for mineral description and identification.
Crédits Franz Joseph Anton Estner, Versuch einer Mineralogie (Vienna: Joseph Georg Oehler, 1794), plate 2. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Mg 5338-1. 
URL http://journals.openedition.org/1718/docannexe/image/1327/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 3,5M
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Référence électronique

Giulia Simonini, « Organising Colours: Patrick Syme’s Colour Chart and Nomenclature for Scientific Purposes », XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 75 | 2018, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2018, consulté le 15 novembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/1718/1327 ; DOI : 10.4000/1718.1327

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Auteur

Giulia Simonini

Giulia Simonini is PhD candidate and research assistant to Prof. Dr Friedrich Steinle (Institute for the History of Science, TU Berlin) in the project “The Order of Colours. Colour Systems and Colour Reference Systems in Eighteenth-Century Europe”. She is freelance palaeographer, and worked previously as assistant to Prof. Dr Rafał Makała (History of Eastern European Art, TU Berlin), and as a research assistant to Prof. Dr Aleksandra Lipińska in the pilot project “Loitz Network” (History of Eastern European Art, TU Berlin). She is the author of “Daniel Weiman & Libri picturati A 16–31” published in Archives of Natural history 45.1 (2018). Email: giulia.simonini@tu-berlin.de

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