ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING IN PAINTINGS - Cliff Shorey

This gallery explores the artist rendition of artificial lighting in oil paintings from the year 1900 to 1930. Lighting throughout these years has developed in many ways. With the rise in electricity and cinema, it is my belief that a new understanding of painting with light has risen thanks to the light bulb and existing forms of light.

Miss Alice Kurtz is a portrait painted by Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins. It is of a woman, presumably Alice, wearing a white dress and looking at what appears to be a window. The window is what I assume to be the main light source in this image. The ambient light possibly diffused softly through a curtain would create that soft wrapping look around Alice’s face as well as the white color effect. It would make sense to use a large natural source as it is still early for electrical lighting to be this efficient.
Thayer Abbot Handerson painted Margaret MacKittrick in 1903. This was still the year before tungsten filaments came to replace carbon, so I have a hard time believing electrical lighting inspired this. Margaret is surrounded by a black background of wall, so it is possible this painting was candlelit. My theory to this painting is that the lighting comes from an oil lamp from slightly above her head level, possibly lighting the canvas so Thayer could see. She has a very warm glow with a hotspot on her forehead and a soft shadow under her chin.
Everett Shinn painted Keiths Union Square in some time between 1902-1906. He depicted a bright woman dancing against a dark background. The background is what I believe to be a mural of a landscape next to a pillar. Now I do not have much explanation for the brightness of the model, I believe it is an imaginary source casting toward her creating a shadow. Behind her is a bright cast of light falling through an opening that looks like its coming from the sun at golden hour.
Monsignor James P. Turner is a profile of the cleric painted in a chapel. I believe the lighting to be coming from the sun falling through the chapel windows. It’s my belief that the windows are diffusing the light to cause that soft wrap around that Thomas chose to depict. I also see the color as the natural ambience of the chapel thanks to the view of the walls in the background.
This painting stood out to me because the lighting looked almost completely unmotivated. Robert Henri painted George Wesley Bellows with a dark coat in front of a dark background however his face is all but luminous. The only way someone could light a photograph this way s if they shone a localized light source to his face from a high angle, but since this a painting, the physics are bound to the artist. The painting is however, believable looking and one of many similar paintings which seemed to be a trend at this period.
This painting of a fortuneteller, presumably reading the bottom of the teacup really stands out to me. There is a glow coming from below to the left that really makes this painting look mysterious. Also her being is almost translucent, thanks to the glow on the wall right to her left, which adds to the supernatural feel making this a successful painting. The painting is aptly named Telling Fortunes by George Luks.
I really love the painting Armistice Night. It is also painted by George Luks, and is a great tribute to the end of the First World War. Armistice Night was a celebration, which allowed the artist to take liberties with the lighting. There is an overall bight blue haze and a few practical’s coming from the streetlamps, which were already popular at this time.
This last painting of this collection from George Luks depicts a dapper man in a top hat with a cane specifically posing for this painting. The painting is of Otis Skinner as Col. Philippe Bridau which leads me to believe Otis commissioned the painting for himself. This one really resembles current portraiture because of the bright background, which focuses our eyes to Otis’s face, which is the brightest part of the image. In photography terms, this is a well composed image.
The final two paintings are by Robert Henri, continuing his style of work. He paints this one, simply called Kathleen in a similar way as he did George Wesley Bellows. This time, the motivation of lighting is much more pronounced as he may have actually had some electrical lamps turned on to experiment with. Again, the face is almost luminous against an almost black background.
Portrait of Mary Patton is similar to that of Kathleen, however I can clearly see Robert Henri’s progression. In this painting, Mary is very warm, and lit from the right of the canvas from what I believe to be a tungsten lamp. He no longer painted the subjects face as an over bright point of attention, instead he made a balanced portrait with very defined shadows.
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This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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