Henri Pfeiffer  (German, 1907-1952) was one among a few modern artists who truly embodied the idea of a Renaissance man.  He studied music, architecture, science, theatre, medicine, and color theory. Pfeiffer descended from a long line of painters spanning five centuries and both of his parents encouraged him in his many artistic pursuits. They provided him with plenty of drawing materials, painting supplies and inks.

    He took piano, violin and guitar lessons and his grandmother exposed him to a range of literature from Arabian
    Nights to poetry. Pfeiffer later claimed that childhood exposure to music, poetry and painting made him aware
    of a peculiar ability that would not leave him. While listening to music, images would appear before his eyes in
    clear, visual colors. It was Pfeiffer’s early love of color that prompted him to later engage in scientific research.

    He wanted to know what made some paintings beautiful, and others not. He wanted to understand his visual
    experiences and learn about how colors created harmony like musical chords. At the age of twelve he went to the first exhibition of student work of the Bauhaus in Weimar. He was so excited that he wanted to be an apprentice at the Bauhaus, but was told he needed to be at least seventeen.

    In 1924 he was finally able to join the Bauhaus artists, but they unfortunately had to close only a year later. At this
    time Pfeiffer joined his great uncle Paul, a professor and director of the Chemical Institute of the University of
    Bonn, who helped him produce colors and extract chemicals in laboratories.  In 1929 the Bauhaus reopened in
    Dessau.  Pfeiffer rejoined and attended painting classes by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. He became especially close to Klee and was greatly influenced by the older artist’s work in color theory.

    Pfeiffer had been making water colors at least since 1927 and continued to work primarily in this medium,
    working through them as experiments in color. Pfeiffer found traditional painting unsatisfying and wanted to
    apply order to what he saw as a process rather like trying to apply order after an explosion. For him, painting
    was an unconscious exercise in secret algebra and needed a strong theoretical background. He believed that
    colors, just like music, create vibrations within us.

    Beautiful colors contain a harmony capable of creating a silent concert.  Pfeiffer talks how we have preconceived notions of color, for example “the sky is blue.”  A master artist, however, knows that a sky has a great variety of nuance since a trained brain can make the necessary distinctions. The key is applying the right pigments to bring about the proper qualities in regards to clarity, luminance and brilliance of a color.

    Contrary to the theories of Klee and Kandinsky, Pfeiffer eventually found that the harmony of colors does not
    exist in the relations among the colors themselves, but that there is a single formula that one can apply to all
    colors. Pfeiffer declared that “if the ancient Greeks had seen the Pythagorean theorem in color, they would have
    created a tenth muse.” Much like the Greek concept of the Golden Ratio that was applied to poetry, sculpture
    and architecture, Pfeiffer believed that with the right proportions applied, colors would be in harmony.

    In 1931 Pfeiffer went to the University of Cologne. There he completed a thesis on Beethoven and the theatre,
    but continued to energetically paint and continue his work with color theory. When the Nazi party seized power,
    he tried to emigrate, but was shot at the border. He survived and was sentenced to hard labor in the steel mills
    at a concentration camp. After the horrors of WWII, Pfeiffer went on to study medicine and physiology.

    From 1943 to 1945 he worked as a medical assistant and specialized in ophthalmology.   He was especially interested
    in damage to the optical color receptors in the eye as a result of war injuries. Pfeiffer eventually left Germany
    for Paris in 1952 and taught courses on his now fully developed color theory method, chromatology, at the
    Academy of Paris.

    It was officially adopted into the standard curriculum by the National Ministry of Education in 1957.

    “One is able to imagine color,  make a mental representation of the color with closed eyes as well as dream in
    color.  Color exists in the mind.  It is in us.” – Henri Pfeiffer, Les Harmonies des Couleurs.