Munsell Color System; Color Matching from Munsell Color Company > color-blog > Evolution of a Color System: A. H. Munsell Becomes a Color Rock Star

Evolution of a Color System: A. H. Munsell Becomes a Color Rock Star

It was 1908 and A.H. Munsell continued to spread the word about his then revolutionary color order system.  In addition to his stints abroad, touring with leading physicists and other scientific luminaries to share his new color theory, he was packing in a crowd back home in Boston.  His November 14 lecture, “Training of the Color Sense by Measured Intervals” drew an estimated 600 teachers and artists to MIT’s Huntington Hall… that’s a sellout crowd for 1908!

Munsell spoke about the evolution of his color order system, which had been in use as a teaching tool for nearly three years with good results, though it still was not widely adopted. As Munsell himself mentioned, the Munsell Color Order System is “based on the latest knowledge of the action of the eye” rather than “personal bias.” He even went on to criticize color education in most schools. He explained that his system teaches about color with a focus on the harmonious colors as opposed to starting with the extremes.

Color Visualization… Munsell Style

Munsell closed out 1908 with weekly lectures from November 13 until December 18.  Offered at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, Munsell was rocking Boston area artists and art education with lectures including, “The Color Sense,” “Color Measures,” Color Balance,” “Color Records,” and “Color Design.” These lectures were repeated in January and February of 1909.  Munsell’s diary explains that by using Munsell Color Theory, with its basis in the way the eye sees color, one is able to train one’s mind to visualize color.  You’re literally training your memory of color arrangements based on Munsell’s color order system. As Munsell puts it in his diary, [the] “aim of color study [is] to perceive, define, relate, imitate and memorize – later to enjoy and use picturesquely, decoratively.”

By March of 1909, Munsell’s color order system was in use by primary schools in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut as well as a high school in New York City, a teacher’s college and numerous private schools. With the help of Royal B. Farnum, Munsell’s theory of color and color education tools gained even wider adoption.  Farnum, a 1906 graduate of Munsell’s alma mater, Massachusetts Normal Art School, was an art teacher in the Cleveland Public School District and an art department Director of the Cleveland School of Art. While he was preparing to take the exam to become the New York State Inspector of Drawing and Industrial Training, he created the “Southern Summer School”—a six-week, four-season series of courses for educators and artists that was based on Munsell Color Theory.

Learn how you can become a color rock star with Munsell color education products.  If you are already using Munsell, we would love to hear about how it has made you a color rock star.


A. H. Munsell Color Diary, 1908-1918, Volume B Part 1 (pp. 241-244) and Volume B Part 2 (pg. 261).  Courtesy of Rochester Institute of Technology, Munsell Color Science Laboratory.

Posted by .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *