Category Archives: Light and Dark

Light and Dark

The use of light is one of the major instruments a painter can use to create atmosphere and to highlight details. Some painters use sharp contrasts (tenebrism) and make use of the darkness. The Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio set the tone in combining a realistic style with dramatic tenebrism.  The British painter Joseph Wright of Derby used the same style but used contemporary subjects.


A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery_Wright

Joseph Wright of Derby, The Orrery, ca 1766

The painting shows a lecturer who is explaining the solar system with a model in which the sun is replaced with a lamp. The faces of the public complement the model by showing different phases of the moon seen from the viewpoint of the distant spectator.


An Iron Forge 1772 by Joseph Wright of Derby 1734-1797

Joseph Wright of Derby, The Iron Forge, 1772

In this painting, the only source of light is the white-hot iron bar. The family of the blacksmith surrounds him and bathes in the light and the warmth. In the next painting a quite exotic natural source of light is used to compete with the moon : the eruption of .the Vesuvius vulcano.


Vesuvius from Posillipo, 1788, Joseph Wright of Derby

 Joseph Wright of Derby, Vesuvius from Posillipo, ca 1788

The subject is this time more romantic with tiny human figures on the water against the background of the mighty nature.


collectie Schendel jaarmarkt

Petrus van Schendel, Jaarmarkt op de Grote Markt in Breda, 1863

Petrus van Schendel was a Dutch-Belgian painter and specialized in night scenes of markets. He made an international reputation and could count Queen Victoria and King Willem II of Holland as his admirers.



Petrus van Schendel, The Candlelit market, ca 1850

Van Schendel used his succes to produce numerous candle-lit night scenes and was nicknamed mr Candle.

We will continue our tour with the Czech painter Schikaneder who had a melancholic, dream like style in which he could use low light conditions.


Jakub Schikaneder, Twilight in the winter

And at the end of the day, the sunset is always an inspiring and magic moment especially at the waterfront.


Jakub Schikaneder, Sunset on the Vlatava river, 1910

We will end with the British painter John Atkinson Grimshaw. He was autodidact and succeeded in making a living with his paintings. He often used moonlit night conditions such as the following harbour scene.


John Atkinson Grimshaw, Nightfall on the Thames

Another great painting is his cityscape of Glasgow in the late evening.The cold wet streets reflect the inviting  light of the shops while the boats on the left rest from a long day of sailing.



John Atkinson Grimshaw, Canny Glasgow, 1887