Several years ago-- or maybe it was last month, whatever-- the Portland Museum of Art here in Portland, Maine (known as "The Big City") held a wonderful retrospective of Impressionist Art. All the usual suspects were there; Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Cezanne. To the museums credit, they also had some other greats: Metcalf, Twachtman, Weir, Hassam and Benson. In short, it was a stunning display of art--- except-
(And there's always a "But" isn't there?)
The lighting was horrendous!
It was so dim, I kept thinking the movie was just about to start. Some paintings were displayed in complete shadow, while one had a solitary spot light shining down on it from the ceiling about ten feet up. The light on that piece lit the top of the typically large, ornate Victorian frame. As a result, the frame's shadow obscured the top third of the painting. The work was also done in heavy impasto, which in turn sent more shadows dripping down the paintings surface.
Look, I get that light is the enemy of paintings with their fragile and fugitive colors and that they must be carefully conserved so that future generations can see them for themselves in their own dimly lit museums. But when I go to a museum to see paintings, I go to see an image rendered in paint, not an object on a wall.
That rant reminds me of a story about Thomas Eakins. He was all upset because some colors and values he labored over on one of his paintings was lost because of the poor lighting where it was being displayed. But that's just another one of the Two Million Things To Keep In Mind When Painting, isn't it? Is the painting going to be seen in the same lighting as how we painted it?
Here in my studio, I don't have a North light. I do have a bank of windows on the south side, though. The light streaming in is usually warm, as opposed to the steady, cooler North light. I try to offset that by having cool "daylight" bulbs shining down on my work space from the ceiling and a lamp clamped onto my easel.
In the corner I have another easel with two spots with more daylight bulbs. I place the painting on that one so I can stand far enough back to get a good look at my picture. (It's the photo at the top of the page). I will take pictures there, but I prefer using real sunshine whenever I possibly can.
But wait! There's more!
Every day I lug my painting up to the house and set it in the living room. The lamps there are a warm, yellow light because I still have incandescent bulbs. (Sshhhh.. don't tell anyone!) I will also drag it into the kitchen, dining room-- even the bathroom. All have different types of light. I think it's important to see pictures in as many different light settings as I can. I figure somebody, somewhere is going to use the same light I'm viewing the piece in. You might be surprised to see the difference warm and cool light can have on a painting:
The above was taken in warm light. All the warm pinks and yellows and such are amplified one thousand fold, making them blisteringly hot. Below, here's the picture in cool light:
I'm not even going to get into whether your monitor leans to the blue or red spectrum, so Lord knows what you're seeing here. But this is how I'm going to present this painting until I get outside and take a photo in the sun. Anyway, I call it "Off Season", it's oil on panel 24X20. It's highly doubtful, but gee, wouldn't it be great if someday this piece is in a museum?--
Maybe they'll have the lights on!