The Luminous and Pictorial Nature of Colours
We tried yesterday to understand the nature of colour from a certain
point of view and found on the way — white, black, green,
peach-blossom colour; and in such a manner that we were able to say:
these colours are images or pictures, they are already present in the
world with the character of pictures; but we saw also that something
essential proceeded from something else giving rise to the pictorial
character of the colour. We saw, for example, that the living must
proceed from the lifeless, and that in the lifeless the image of the
living, the green arises. I shall continue today from our yesterday's
experience, and in such a way as to differentiate between, so to
speak, the receiver and the give, between that in which the picture is
formed, and the originator of it. Then I shall be able to put the
following division before you: I differentiate (you will understand
the expression if you take the whole of what we did yesterday) — I
differentiate the shadow-thrower from the Illuminant. If the
shadow-thrower is the spirit, the spirit receives that which is thrown
upon it; if the shadow-thrower is the spirit and if the illuminant (it
is an apparent contradiction, but not a real one) is the dead, then
black is pictured in the spirit as the image of the dead, as we say
If the shadow-thrower is the dead, and the illuminant the living, as
in the case of the plant, then, as we saw, you have green. If the
shadow-thrower is the living and the illuminant the psychic, then, as
we saw, you get the image of peach-colour. If the shadow-thrower is the
psychic and the illuminant the spirit, you get white as the image.
So you see, we have got these four colours with the pictorial
character. We can therefore say: with a shadow-thrower and an
illuminant, we get a picture. So we get here four colours — but you
must reckon black and white among the colours — with the
picture-character: black, white, green, peach-colour.
When the lifeless appears in the Spirit you get black.
Now, as you know, there are other so-called colours, and we have to
search also for their natures. We shall not search for them through
abstract concepts any more than before, but approach the matter
according to feeling, and then you will see that we come to a certain
understanding of the colours if we put the following before our eyes.
Think of a quiescent white. Then we will let beams of different colours
from opposite sides play on to this quiescent white — it can be a
quiet white room — from one side yellow and from the other blue. We
then get green.
In this way therefore we got green. We have to visualize exactly what
happens: we have a quiescent white, into which we throw rays of colour
from both sides, one yellow and other blue and we get the green we
have already found from another point of view.
You see, we cannot look for the peach-colour as we looked for the
green, if we confine ourselves to the living production of colour. We
must seek it in another way, as follows: Imagine I paint here a black,
below it a white, another black, below it a white and so on — black
and white alternately — now imagine that this black and white was
not quiescent — they would vibrate, as it were. In fact, it is the
opposite of what we had up here: here was had a quiescent white and
let beams of colour into it from both sides in a continuous process,
yellow and blue from left to right. Now I take black and white; I
cannot of course paint that at the moment, but imagine these
undulating through each other; and just as I let in yellow and blue
before, allow now this undulation, with its continual interplay of
black and white, to be shone through, pierced with red: if I could
select the right shade, I should, through this play of black and white
into which I let the red shine, get peach-colour.
Notice how we must resort to quite different methods of producing
colours. With one we must take a quiescent white — and thus we must
destroy one of the picture-colours in the scale we already have
here — and let two other colours which we have not yet got play upon
it. But here was have to go about it differently; here we have to take
two of the colours we have, black and white, we must instill movement
into them, take a colour we have not yet got, namely red, and let is
shine through the moving white and black. You will also see something
which will strike you if you observe life: green you have in nature;
peach-colour you have (as I explained yesterday, in my sense) only in a
fully healthy man. And, I said, the possibility is not easily present
of reproducing this shade of colour. For one could really reproduce it
only if one could represent white and black in motion and then let
fall on them the beam of red. One would really have to produce a
circumstance — it is after all present in the human
organism — in which there was always motion. Everything is in
movement and from that fact arises this colour of which we are
speaking. So that we can get this colour only in a roundabout way, and
for this reason the majority of portraits are really only masks,
because flesh-colour can be realized only by means of all sorts of
approximations. It could be achieved only, you see, if we had a
continual wave movement of black and white, with red rays through it.
I have here pointed out to you from the nature of things a certain
difference in relation to colour. I have shown you how to use the
colours which we get as pictorial colours, how in one case we used
white, in a condition of rest, and by throwing upon it two colours
which we have not yet got, we obtained another pictorial colour,
Again, we take two colours, black and white, in a scale of reciprocated
movement, and let them be penetrated or illuminated by a new colour,
that we have not yet got, and the result is another
colour — peach-colour. We get peach-colour and green, therefore, in
quite different ways. In one case we required red, in the other yellow
and blue. Now we shall be able to go a step further towards the nature
of colour if we consider another thing.
Taking the colours we found yesterday, we may say as follows: By its
own nature green always allows us to make it with definite limits.
Green can be enclosed or limited: in other words it is not unpleasant
to us if we paint a surface green and give is a circumscribed area.
But just imagine this is the case of peach-colour. It does not agree
with our artistic sense. Peach-colour can be represented really only as
a mood, without reference to a defined area, without expecting one. If
you have a sense of colour, you can feel that. If, for instance, you
think of a green — you can easily think of green card-tables.
Because a game is a limited pedantic activity, something very
Philistine, one can think of such an arrangement — a room with
card-tables covered in green. What I mean is that it would be enough
to make you run away, if you were invited to play cards on mauve
tables. On the other hand, a lilac coloured room, or a room furnished
throughout in mauve, would lend itself very well, shall we say, to
mystical conversation, in the best and the very worst sense. It is
true, the colours in this respect are not anti-moral, but amoral. Thus
we note that as a result of its own nature, colour has a inner
character; whereby green allows itself to be defined, lilac and peach
or flesh-colour tend to spread into vagueness.
Let us try to get a the colours which we did not have yesterday, from
this point of view. Let us take yellow, the whole inner nature of
yellow, if we make here a yellow surface. Yes, you see, a defined
surface of yellow is something disagreeable; it is ultimately
intolerable for someone with artistic feeling. The soul cannot bear a
yellow surface which is limited and defined in extent. So we must make
the yellow paler towards the edges, and then still paler. In short we
must have a full yellow in the centre and from there it must shade off
to pale yellow. You cannot picture yellow in any other way, if you
want to feel it with your own being. Yellow must radiate, getting
paler all the time. That is what I might call the secret of yellow.
And if you hem in the yellow, it is in fact as if you laughed at it.
You always see the human factor in it, which has bounded the yellow.
Yellow does not speak when it is bounded, for it refuses to be
bounded, it wants to radiate in some direction or other.
We shall see a case in a moment, where yellow consents to be bounded,
but it will just go to show how impossible it is, considering its real
inner nature. It wants to radiate. Let us take blue on the
other hand. Imagine a surface covered equally with blue. One can
imagine it, but it has something super-human. When Fra Angelico paints
equal blue surfaces, he summons, as it were, something
super-terrestrial into the terrestrial sphere. He allows himself to
paint an equal blue when he brings super-terrestrial things into the
terrestrial sphere. In the human sphere he would not do it, for blue
as such, because of its own nature, does not permit a smooth surface.
Blue by its inner nature demands the exact opposite of yellow. It
demands that the colour is intensified on the circumference and shades
off towards the center. It demands to be strongest at the edges and
palest in the middle. Then blue is in its element. By this it is
differentiated from yellow. Yellow insists on being strongest in the
center, and then paling off. Blue piles itself up at the edges and
flows together, to make a piled-up wave, as it were, round a lighter
blue. Then it shows itself in its very own nature.
We arrive therefore on all sides at what I might call the feeling or
longing o the soul in face of colours. And these are fulfilled; that
is, the painter really responds to them, if he paints in accordance
with what the colour itself demands. If he consciously thinks — now
I've dipped my brush in the green, now I must be a bit of a Philistine
and give the green a sharp outline; if he thinks: now I am painting
yellow — I must make that radiate, I must imagine myself the spirit
of radiation; and if he thinks when painting blue: I draw myself in,
into my innermost self and build, as it were, a crust round me, and so
I must also paint by giving the blue a kind of crust: then he lives in
his colour and paints in his picture what the soul really must want if
it yields itself to the nature of colour.
Of course, as soon as we touch upon art, a factor comes in which
modifies the whole thing. I'll make circles here for you which I fill
in with colour. (Diagram 1)
Click image for large view
One can of course have other figures than these; but the yellow must
always radiate in some direction and the blue must always contract, as
it were, into itself.
The red I might call the balance between them. We can accept the red
completely as a surface. We understand it best if we differentiate it
from peach-colour, in which it is, you remember, incorporated as an
illuminant. Take the two shades side by side, red and peach-colour.
What happens when you let the red really influence your soul? You say,
this red affects me as a quiet redness. It is not the case with
peach-colour. That wants to split up, to spread. It is a nice
difference between red and peach-colour. Peach-colour wants to
disintegrate, it wants to get ever thinner and thinner till it has
disappeared. The red remains, but its effect is one of surface. It
does not want to radiate or pile itself up, or to escape; it asserts
itself. Lilac, peach-colour, flesh-colour, do not really assert
themselves: they want always to change their form, because they want
to escape. That is the difference between this colour, peach, which we
already have, and red, which belongs to those colours which we have not
yet got. But we have not three colours together: blue, red and yellow.
Yesterday we found the four colours: black, white, peach-colour and
green; now red, blue and yellow are before us and we have tried to get
inside these three colours with our feeling, to see how they interplay
with the others. We let the red interplay with a motionless white and
we shall easily find the distinction if we now examine what we have
brought before the soul. We cannot make such a distinction in the
colours we found yesterday as we now have made between yellow, blue and
red. We were compelled today to let black and white move in and out of
each other when we produced peach-colour. Black and white are
“picture-colours” which can do this; let us leave it at that.
Peach-colour we must also leave; it disappears of its own accord, we
cannot do anything with it, we are powerless against it. Nor can it
help itself, it is its nature to disappear. Green outlines itself,
that is it nature. But peach-colour does not demand to be
differentiated in itself, but to be uniform, like red; if it were
differentiated it would level itself out at once. Just imagine a
peach-coloured surface with lumps in it! It would be awful. It would
promptly dissolve the lumps, for it always strives for uniformity. If
you have an extra green on green, that is a different matter; green
has to be applied evenly and has to be outlined. We cannot imagine a
radiating green. You can imagine a twinkling star, can't you; but
hardly a twinkling tree-frog. It would be a contradiction for a
tree-frog to twinkle. Well — that is the case also with peach-colour
If we want to bring black and white together at all we must make them
undulate into each other as pictures, even if as moving pictures. But
it is different with the three colours we have found today.
We saw that yellow wants, of its own nature, to get paler and paler
towards the edges; it wants to radiate; blue wants to heap itself up,
to intensify itself, and red wants to be evenly distributed without
outline. It wants to hold the middle place between radiating and
concentrating; that is red's nature. So you see there is a fundamental
difference between colours that are in themselves quiet or mobile,
quiet as green, or mobile as mauve, or isolated like black and white.
If we want to bring these colours together, it must be as pictures. And
red, yellow and blue, in accordance with their inner activity, their
inner mobility, are distinguished from the inner mobility of lilac.
Lilac tends to dissolve — that is not an inner mobility — it
tends to evaporate; red is quiet — it is movement come to
rest — but, when we look at it, we cannot rest at one point: we
want to have it as an even surface, which, however, is unlimited. With
yellow and blue we saw the tendency to vary. Red, yellow and blue
differ from black, white, green and peach-colour. You see it from this:
Red, yellow and blue have, in contrast to those other colours which
have pictorial qualities, another character and if you consider what I
have said about them you will find the term I apply to this different
character justified. I have called the colours black, white, green and
peach-colour pictures — “pictorial colours” (Bildfarben,) I
call the colours yellow, red and blue “lusters” — luster
colours. (Blanz-farben,) in yellow, red and blue, objects glisten: they
show their surfaces outwards, they shine or glisten.
That is the nature and the difference in coloured things. Black, white,
green, peach-colour have a pictorial colour, they take their colour from
something; in yellow, blue and red there is an inherent luster.
Yellow, blue, red are external to something essential. The others are
always projected pictures, always something shadowy. We can call them
the shadow-colours. The shadow of the spiritual on the psychic is
white. The shadow of the lifeless on the spirit is black. The shadow
of the living on the lifeless is green. The shadow of the psychic on
the living is peach-colour. “Shadow” and “picture or
image” are akin.
On the other hand with blue, red and yellow we have to do with
something luminous, not with shadow, but with that by which the nature
advertises itself outwardly. So that we have in the one case pictures
or shadows and in the other, in the colours red, blue and yellow we
have what are modifications of illuminants. Therefore I call them
lustrous. The things shine, they throw off colour in a way; and
therefore these colours have of their own accord the nature of
radiation: yellow radiating outwards, blue radiating inwards, and red
the balance of the two, radiating evenly. This even radiation shining
on and through the combination of white and black in motion produces
Letting yellow flash from one side on to stationary white and blue
from the other side, produces green.
You will observe, we come here upon things which upset Physics
completely — you can take everything known today in Physics about
colours. There one just writes down the scale: Red, orange, yellow,
green, blue, indigo, violet. One does not mention the reciprocal
interplay. Let us run along the scale. You will see that starting with
the luster red, the lustrous property ceases more and more till we
come to a colour in picture, in shadow-colour, to green. Then we come
again to a lustrous colour of an opposite kind to the former, we come
to blue, the concentrated luster-colour. Then we must leave the usual
physical colour-scale entirely in order to get to the colour which can
really not be represented at all except in a state of movement. White
and black, pierced by rays of red give peach-colour. If you take the
ordinary scheme of the physicist, all you can say is: All
right — red, orange, yellow, green blue, indigo, violet ...
Notice I start from a luster, go on to what is properly a colour, on
again to a luster and only then come to a colour.
Now, if I did not do that as it is on the physical plane, but were to
turn it as it is in the next higher world, if I were to bend the warm
side of the spectrum and the cold side so that I drew it like this
(Diagram 2) red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet; if I were
to bend this stretched-out line of colour into a circle, then I should
get my peach-colour up here at the top.
Thus I return again to colour. Colour I and Colour II to and bottom,
Luster III and Luster IV left and right. Now there still lurks hidden
only that other colour — white and black. You see, if I go up here
with the white (from the bottom upwards) it would stick in the green,
so the black comes down here to meet it (from the top downwards,) and
here at V they begin to overlap; thus, together with the rays from the
red, they produce the peach-colour.
I have therefore to imagine a white and a black, overlapping and
interplaying (See Diagram 2) and in this way I get a complex colour
combination, which however corresponds more closely to the nature of
colours than anything you see in the books on Physics.
Click image for large view
Now, let us take luster: but luster means that something shines. What
shines? If you take the yellow (and you must take it with your feeling
and colour-sense, not with the abstract-loving understanding,) you need
only say: In receiving the impression of yellow, I am really so moved
by it that it lives on within me, as it were. Just think, yellow makes
us gay; but being gay means, really, being filled with a greater
vitality of soul. We are therefore more attuned to the ego through
yellow, in other words we are spiritualized. So, if you take yellow in
its original nature, that is, fading outwards, and think of it shining
within you, because it is a luster-colour, you will have to agree:
Yellow is the luster of the spirit. Blue, concentrating, intensifying
itself outwards, is the luster of the psychic. Red, filling space
evenly, is the luster of the living. Green is the picture of the
living; red, the luster.
You can see this very well if you try to look at a fairly strong red
on a white surface; if you look away quickly, you see green as the
after-image, and the same surface as a green after-image. The image of
the living is the green. No wonder that red luster produces the green
as its image when it shines into you.
Thus we get these three colour-natures of quite different kinds. They
are the active colour-natures. It is the thing that shines which
contains the differentiation; the other colours are quiescent images.
We have something here which has its analogy in the Cosmos. We have in
the Cosmos the contrast of the Signs of the Zodiac, which are
quiescent images, and that which differentiates the Cosmos in
the Planets. It is only a comparison, but one which is founded
on fact. We may say that we have in black, white, green and
peach-colour something whose effect is static; even when it is in
movement; something of the fixed stars. And in red, yellow and blue we
have something essentially in motion, something planetary. Yellow,
blue, red give a nuance to the other colours; yellow and blue tinge
white to green, red gives peach colour when it shines into the combined
black and white.
Here you see the Colour-Cosmos. You see the world in its
inter-action, and you see that we really have to go to colour if we
want to study the laws of coloured things. We must not go from colours
to something else, we must remain in the colours themselves. And when
we have a grasp of colours, we come to see in them what is their mutual
relationship, what is the lustrous, the luminous, and what is the
shadow-giving, the image-producing element in them.
Just think what this means to Art. The artist knows if he is dealing
with yellow, blue and red that he must conjure into his picture
something that has a dynamic character, that itself gives character.
When he works with peach-colour and green on black and white, he knows
that the picture-quality is already there. Such a colour-theory is
inherently so completely living that it can be transferred directly
form the psychic into the artistic. And if you so understand the
nature of the colours that you recognize, as it were, what each colour
wants — that yellow wants to be stronger in the middle and to pale
off towards the edge, because that is the inherent quality of
yellow — then you must do something if you want to fix the yellow,
if you want to have a smooth, even yellow surface somewhere. What does
one do then? Something must be put into the yellow which deprives it
of its own character, of its own will. The yellow has to be made
heavy. How can this be done? By putting something into the
yellow which gives it weight, so that it becomes gilded. There you
have yellow without the yellow, left yellow to a certain
extent, but deprived of its nature. You can make an even gold
background to a picture, but you have given weight to the yellow,
inherent weight; you have taken away its own will; you hold it fast.
Hence the old painters who had a susceptibility to such things found
that in yellow they have the luster of the spirit. They looked up to
the spiritual, to the light of the spirit in yellow; but they wanted
to have the spirit here on earth. They had to give it weight,
therefore. If they made a gold background, like Cimabue, they gave the
spirit habitation on earth, they evoked the heavenly in their picture.
And the figures could stand out of the background of gold, could grow
as creations of the spiritual. These things have an inherent
conformity to law. You observe, therefore, if we deal with yellow as a
colour, of it sown accord it wants to be strong in the centre and shade
off outwards. If we want to retain it on an evenly-coloured surface, it
is necessary to metallize it. And so we come to the concept of
metallized colour, and to the concept of colour retained in matter, of
which we shall say more tomorrow.
But you will notice one must first understand colours in their fleeting
character before one can understand them in solid substantial form. We
shall proceed to this tomorrow. We come in this to what ordinary
people — and “extraordinary” people, for that
matter — alone call colour. For they know only the colours which are
present in solid bodies, and therefore they say — “If one
speaks of the spirit, as, for instance, of thought (pretty sentence,
isn't it?), then the spirit either is coloured — or not
coloured.” Well, then, in this case there is not the least
possibility of rising to the volatility of colour!
You will observe that what I have been explaining provides a way to
recognize the materialization of the colours in the physical
colour-spectrum. It stretches right and left endlessly, that is
indefinitely; in the spirit and in the psychic realm, everything is
joined up. We must join up the colour-spectrum. And if we train
ourselves to see not only peach-colour, but the movement in it; if we
train ourselves not only to see flesh-colour in man, but also to live
in it; if we feel that our bodies are the dwelling-place of our souls
as flesh-colour, then this is the entrance, the gateway into a
spiritual world. Colour is that thing which descends as far as the
body's surface; it is also that which raises man from the material and
leads him into the spiritual.