Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology

2016 Edition
| Editors: Ming Ronnier Luo

Palmer, George

  • Rolf G. Kuehni
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-8071-7_311


George Palmer, also known as George Giros de Gentilly named Palmer, was an English dye chemist, color theorist, inventor, and soldier. According to his obituary, Palmer was born ca. 1746 on a ship, to English Catholic parents. Due to the eighteenth-century restrictions on activities of English Catholics, Palmer lived a double life between England and France. Nothing is known about his early years. Circa 1775, he introduced a solution of tin as a new mordant for the dyeing of wool fabrics in Louviers, France, using the last name Giros de Gentilly [1, 2]. In 1777, located in London, he published the book Theory of Colours and Vision, a French edition of which was published in the same year in Paris, translated by Palmer’s friend Denis-Bernard Quatremère d’Isjonval, at the time active in the textile manufacturing facility Disjonval in Sedan, France, owned by his family [3, 4]. In the same year, Palmer also invented a fawn-colored dye in London [5]. In 1781, J. H. Voigt of Gotha, Germany, editor of Magazin für das Neueste aus der Physik und Naturgeschichte (Journal for the Latest Physics and Natural Sciences News), describes meeting with Giros von Gentilly and the latter’s conjectures about color blindness [6]. In 1785, Palmer, living in Paris, had Lettre sur les moyens de produire, la nuit, une lumière pareille á celle du jour (Letter Concerning the Means of Producing at Night a Light Equal to Daylight) published [7] describing the modification of oil lamplight with a blue glass mantel, a technology that became fashionable for a time. In 1786, Palmer published Théorie de la lumière, applicable aux arts, et principalement á la peinture (Theory of Light Applicable to the Arts, Principally to Painting) [8]. Toward the end of that decade, likely as a result of the French Revolution, Palmer became a mercenary soldier in the Corps of Engineers, at different times for Sweden, Austria, and Russia, reaching the rank of major, as described in his obituary [9]. For a time in the early nineteenth century, he lived near Leipzig in Germany where he reported on four technical inventions, one of which being a fire-extinguishing powder, a demonstration of which was reported in a local newspaper. In 1811, Palmer moved to Copenhagen into retirement and died there destitute in 1826 [10].

Louis Fehr: George Palmer, ca. 1820

Major Accomplishments/Contributions

Palmer made lasting contributions to the development of color science by being the first to propose that there are three different mechanisms in the human eye that account for color vision: “The superficies of the retina is compounded of particles [light sensors] of three different kinds, analogous to the three rays of light; and each of these particles is moved by its own ray” [4]. This statement has proved true in regard to the number of different daylight sensor types, the cones, in the human eye, if not in regard to the claim of three kinds of light. Thirty-five years later, a similar statement was made by the eminent physicist Thomas Young [11].

Voigt, in his report on Giros von Gentilly, describes him as having stated that color blindness arises if one or two of the three kinds of “particles” in the retina are inactive, a statement found to be valid [6]. In 1786, Palmer provided a hypothesis for the complementary nature of the successive contrast effect by stating that it is due to fatiguing of one or two of the light sensor types, an explanation that continues to be accepted as valid, as does his conjecture that the different kinds of sensor take different times to recover upon exposure to strong light [8].


  1. 1.
    Berthollet, C.L., Berthollet, A.B..: Elements de l’art de la teinture, 2nd edn. Firmin, Didot, Paris (1804)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Macquer, P. J.: Mémoire des Sieurs Maille frères et de Lafosse manufacturiers de drap a Louviers, Aug. 3, 1781. Document No. 5315, Box F12/1334B, Archives Nationales de France, Paris (1781)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Palmer, G.: Theory of Colours and Vision. Leacroft, London (1777)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Palmer, G.: Théorie du couleur et de la vision (trans. Quatremère d’Isjonval, D.-B.). Pissot, Paris (1777)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Palmer, G.: Letter dated June 19, 1793, Letter from Lord Hervey including two letters in French and two samples by G. Palmer about his yellow dye, Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Trades, and Manufactures, London, Ref. No.: PR-MC/105/10/452 (1793)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Voigt, J. H.: Des Herrn Giros von Gentilly Muthmassungen ueber die Gesichtsfehler bey Untersuchung der Farben. Magazin für das Neueste aus der Physik und Naturgeschichte 1(2. St.), 57–61 (1781)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Palmer, G.: Lettre sur les moyens de produire, la nuit, une lumière pareille à celle du jour. Paris (1785)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Palmer, G.: Théorie de la lumière, applicable aux arts, et principalement à la peinture. Hardouin et Gattey, Quinquet, Paris (1786)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Thaarup, F.: Dagen newspaper, Copenhagen, No. 66 (March 18), No. 68 (March 21) and No. 70 (March 23) (1826)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kuehni, R.G.: Which George Palmer? Color Res. Appl. 34, 5–9 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Young, T.: The Bakerian Lecture, On the theory of light and colours. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 92, 12–48 (1802)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CharlotteUSA