Let There Be Light - Jessica Thompson

Light has been a powerful symbol for mankind since the beginning of time, and artists use light in incredible and fascinating ways.  This gallery explores a handful of pieces from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries to touch on the myriad of ways artists explore light.  Whether their paintings are realistic, impressionistic or abstract, they all use light in a natural way, even when their subject matter doesn't appear "natural" to the viewer at all.

Cuyp captures the early morning light breaking across the landscape, naturally lighting the herdsmen and cattle. The artist highlights the background and picks out the detail of the clouds while leaving the foreground in shadow. The effect of the lighting in the painting is natural and enhances the pastoral nature of the work.
Vermeer utilizes the light from the window in the left of the painting to illuminate the room depicted. By using light in this fashion he highlights the woman's features and pose while throwing the artist himself into shadow. Vermeer's light source in the painting feels very natural, as if the viewer is stepping in the room to watch the artist at work.
The composition of Strindberg's piece utilizes light to draw the viewer's eye further into "Wonderland" and into the center of the piece. The loose brushstrokes and gentle light at the center add to the dream-like quality. Although the loose brushwork feels less natural, the light source is reminiscent of an individual coming from the darkened forest into the bright light of a clearing.
Thomas Moran's painting of the Grand Canal in Venice at sunset captures the light and color in the sky as well as reflected in the water. Naturally, the color is most intense at the point where the sun is sinking behind the horizon. From there it brightens and lightens as it moves outward, rimming the clouds in light and color.
O'Keeffe's simple, yet powerful, composition utilizes gradient shades of blue from darker at the outer edges to nearly white at the center to draw the eye inward. The foreground remains in shadow as the light rises in the background. Although the painting itself is an abstract representation of the plains at dawn, the light still interacts in a natural way with the environment.
In Mikhailovich's representation of the aurora borealis, the light source comes from above rather than breaking from the horizon. The impact is to draw the eye from the top of the painting down through the vertical brushstrokes to the gently diffusing ring of magenta to the cluster of buildings below.
Monet's work centers around the play of light. The loose brushstrokes and dabs of color create a dappled affect. Upon close examination, the painting appears to be merely swatches of color. However, as the viewer steps away, it resolves itself into a country road, and the shadows of the trees out of view to the right of the road can be seen. The light still works in a natural way.
In Homer's depiction of ships on the ocean at night, light is sparse, but naturally used. The "Eastern Point Light" paints a trail across the water, naturally diffusing as it expands. The eye follows the light up from the lower left of the painting to the moon before drifting to the right and the single ship there.
Degas painting "Dancers" uses moonlight from the window to showcase the dancers preparing for the show. The gentle illumination brightens the left edges of the tutus and bared necks and shoulders of the dancers, drawing the eye from the brightest patch of light on the dancer on the right across the painting toward the dancer gazing out the window.
In van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters" the sole source of light comes from the lantern above the table. It casts a glow onto the table to highlight the table and its contents, illuminating the faces of those present. The overhead light source throws deeps shadows. Its placement also throws the careworn features of the individuals depicted into stark relief.
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