Philipp Otto Runge was both a proponent of romanticism in painting and one of the earliest colour theorists. His friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is part of a legend.
Philip Otto Runge was born on July 23, 1777 to Nicholas Daniel Runge and Magdalena Dorothea Müller. His carefree early years were often interrupted with bouts of illnesses. Elder brother Daniel was young Runge’s first teacher and for a long time, patron. When Runge was twenty four he removed himself to Dresden for continuation of his studies. His time in Dresden was eventful. Here he came to be acquainted with Caspar David Friedrich and befriended his future wife Pauline Bassenge. His interactions with Goethe commenced here before the latter induced him to study further in Weimar.
During his stay in Dresden Runge also became intrigued by the writings of Jakob Böhme, the once native of the city. He started working on his colour theory that kept him busy for the rest of his life. His essay Farben–Kugel had the most fantastic effect on scientists, artists, poets, authors and even laypersons. Henrik Steffens, Clemens Brentano and Goethe himself hailed the young artist’s achievements. Runge himself was most enthusiastic about his work and wrote to Goethe in one of his letters,
I am now very active in finding an apparatus with which one can easily make experiments that might not only confirm my reasoning in a tangible way and vividly demonstrate the matter to the eyes, but would also furnish proof of the statements made and counter–proof of erroneous ones.
The experiments were cruelly cut short by Runge’s severe illness and eventual death on December 2, 1810. Many of his paintings, illustrations and engravings remained unfinished. A series dedicated to The Times of the Day, which was also commercially very successful, remained the highlight of the career.