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Albert H. Munsell & The Munsell Color Theory

The Man Behind the Color Theory: Albert H. Munsell

Albert Henry Munsell was born in Boston Massachusetts on January 6, 1858 and died June 28, 1918. Munsell was an accomplished artist and distinguished professor at what was then known as the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston (today’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design or “MassArt”), from where he graduated in 1881 and was hired as an instructor shortly thereafter.  He served as an instructor and was later appointed lecturer in Color Composition and Artistic Anatomy.  Munsell taught at the institution for 37 years.  He took a brief leave from 1885-1888 to study art in Paris at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he won several awards for his work.

Although best known for his 1905 book, A Color Notation and his later book and precursor to today’s Munsell Books of Color, Atlas of the Color Solid, Munsell was also an inventor.  He holds several patents for a Color-Sphere and Mount, artist’s easel, and photometer; and developed his own Munsell Crayons in 1906, which were sold the Binney & Smith Company in 1926 and were then referred to as Munsell Crayola Crayons.  Munsell’s work in developing a systematic approach to teaching and communicating was influential in evolving color science theory at the turn of the century and served as the basis for today’s color matching technology.

Munsell married Julia Orr on November 28, 1894 in Kings, New York (now known as Brooklyn) and had four children:  Alexander Ector Orr Munsell (A.E.O. Munsell who took over the Munsell Color Company following Albert’s death), Margaret Munsell, Juliet Dows Munsell, and Elizabeth Munsell.

Though he was only 60 years old when he died, his legacy lives on at Munsell Color, the company, and at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Munsell Color Science Laboratory.