The Chevreul Illusion

Michel-Eugene Chevreul

Chevreul (1786-1889), a French chemist, is most well known for his early work on the chemistry of fats. His work revolutionized soap and candle making industries, and laid the foundation for further research into the roles of fat in heart disease.

Chevreul was also extremely influential in the world of art. Chevreul, whose reputation as a chemist had already been secured by his work with fats, was hired as director of the dye plant of Gobelin Tapestry Works in Paris. He responded to many complaints about quality of dyes. Many of the complaints were legitimate, but some dyes which engendered complaints did not fade with time.

Rather, Chevreul discovered that the appearance of a yarn was determined not only by the color with which it was dyed, but by the colors of the surrounding yarns, a concept known as simultaneous contrast. Due to the practical needs of his employer, Chevreul investigated specifics of this phenomenon, laying down rules for weavers who used Gobelin's yarn. His work directly led to the development of Pointillism and Divisionism.

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