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The Cyanometer was invented in 1789 by the Swiss physicist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure and German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who used the circular array of 53 shaded sections in experiments above the skies over Geneva, Chamonix and Mont Blanc. The Cyanometer helped lead to a successful conclusion that the blueness of the sky is a measure of transparency caused by the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.
To measure the ’blueness’ they used suspensions of Prussian blue, Saussure dyed paper squares every shade of blue he could distinguish between white and black. These were assembled into a numbered colour circle that could be held up to the zenith at a standard distance from the eye - the matching square established the degree of blue.
A continuation of Olafur Eliasson’s experiments in colour theory, this circular oil painting presents a variation on the cyanometer. The artist’s cyanometer paintings explore two spectrums – black to blue to white and black to yellow to white.
Since 2009, the artist has been engaged in a project involving a new colour theory based on the prismatic colours. He began these experiments by working with a colour chemist to mix in paint an exact colour for each nanometre of light in the visible spectrum, which ranges in frequency from approximately 390 to 700 nanometres. Since the initial experiments, Eliasson has used this palette to make a large number of painted works on circular canvases, known collectively as the Colour experiment paintings.