Rembrandt van Rijn’s paintings are famous for their luminosity. When considering works by the Dutch master in major international museums, you might agree with most people who think that a Rembrandt painting looks pretty good in any light! I agree with that statement.
For art lovers, it is important to remember that there are certain methods to properly light your art masterpiece. While Rembrandt’s paintings seemingly glow of their own accord, various light sources are employed when masterpieces are installed in museums. The methods used by museum professionals and exhibition design experts regarding how to light works of art may help you to properly and safely light a work of art in your home.
In short, lighting a work of fine art is both critical and complex. Lighting is critical to the overall preservation of the work of art and it is complex when you try to get it right. With fine art, even the slightest difference in the direction of the light source and the type of light selected (e.g., fluorescent, incandescent, halogen, LED, natural, etc.) can make all the difference in the world. Like anything else, art lighting is all about compromise.
The basics for lighting artwork in your home include: use low watt bulbs, don’t display art in direct sunlight, and don’t keep fragile works on display in highly lit areas for long periods of time.
Most people think that natural light is the best light in which to display a work of art. Since most artists are trained in art schools flooded with natural light and many artists prefer to paint works directly from nature in the outdoors or en plein aire where sunlight is abundant, it is true that sunlight is not the best lighting option for your collection.
Sunlight or natural light is difficult to control. Exposing your work of art to sunlight may cause deterioration problems for artwork, particularly, paintings, photographs, prints, watercolors, pastels and other works on paper. The ultraviolet (UV) rays from natural sunlight can damage works of art over time. For instance, UV rays are so harmful that it can fade works on paper. Fading of artwork from light exposure including both direct and indirect sunlight may occur in as short a time span as three months.
Also, with many home design schemes looking to mixed media works of art for display such as textiles serving as dramatic wall decorations, remember that these items will fade in sunlight, too. That means your notion to redecorate your home in the popular “cozy, country chic style” and hang Great-Grandma’s colorful quilt or vintage craft pieces like embroidery or needlepoint pictures on the prominent wall of your sunny family room that faces a big picture window is definitely not a good idea. Any source of light may cause fading and damage to works from oils paintings to historic maps. Sorry, natural light is not the easy answer to your art lighting problems.
While advanced technology and a litany of new products are continuously coming to market, the big three in art lighting remain incandescent, fluorescent and halogen.
What happens to the look of a work of art when selecting a particular lighting type? Incandescent light brings out the warmer colors of the color spectrum such as reds, oranges and yellows. An incandescent light will enhance the warm colors within a work of art when compared to other colors. If you have a seascape composed of predominantly blues and greens then an incandescent light won’t highlight all of those cool colors. In fact, the blues, greens, and violets of your artwork may appear flat under incandescent lights. These lights are better than direct natural light or fluorescent lights that may not emit light across the entire color spectrum, but incandescent don’t provide the easy answer to the general art lighting problem.
You should know that the old-fashioned portrait light that you may have attached to the top of a framed painting of Great-Grandpa is very harmful. That little light source, depending on the bulb, may be emitting intense light and heat onto your oil portrait which will damage the work of art quickly. Since intense light exposure may damage art and antiques, too much light could deteriorate and devalue your pieces.
Light your artwork properly and your collection will repay you with years of enjoyment.