Four portraits of Tudor monarchs lit by Brilliant Lighting in the Long Gallery at Hever Castle
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Artwork & Picture Lighting

All artwork benefits from sympathetic lighting, but great artwork deserves something truly special. Lighting artwork is a skill and we use a variety of different technologies and lighting design techniques to deliver wholly bespoke lighting for fine art collections and individual treasures.

There is no single ‘best’ way of lighting art: the most appropriate route depends on the type of art (its style and medium), size of the artwork, its setting, and the fixing points available for the light fittings.  There are also considerations around how often the artwork changes, and of course how much light is needed and/or is desirable.

All light damages paintings to a greater or lesser extent: if the paintings are precious – and particularly if they are watercolours – then from a light perspective the best way to keep them is in the dark.  However in order to see paintings and to derive pleasure from them they need light.  The light sources used should therefore be the least damaging and very controllable, both to control the amount of light that falls on the painting and the duration that the light is on.

So what are some of the options?

Traditional form factor picture light

Traditional form factor picture lights transformed with new technology

The traditional picture light has been around for decades with incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, and more recently LED light sources being used for lighting artwork. Each source has its own characteristics and issues.

Historically, incandescent lamps were the predominant light source used: they give a warm glow and accentuate reds and golds rather than blues and greens, but overall they offer better colour rendering than fluorescent and most LED sources.  However, incandescent and halogen sources are inefficient and can damage the artwork. Unless filtered they emit ultra-violet (UV) light, and they also emit heat.   Whilst in the past these were as good as you could get, now they are not recommended.

As LED sources have come in (either LED lamps, or dedicated 24v LED picture lights), these offer benefits around reduced UV and heat, but often they have very poor colour rendering.  LEDs are generally very bad at rendering reds and strong blues: both of which tend to be quite important in artwork as they make up skin tones, shadows etc.   Without a full spectrum of light paintings will appear flat and dull (or at worst, bilious and unpleasant).

Regardless of the light source, traditional picture lights work best with small pictures only as they simply don’t ‘throw’ the light: we are all familiar with larger paintings with a hotspot at the top, and a completely dark bottom.

The ArtView LED picture light revolutionises the tradtional picture light

The ArtView LED picture light was born out of a need to light large canvases.   It addresses the issues associated with traditional picture lights – uneven light coverage, poor quality light, high energy consumption and harmful UV emissions – whilst looking perfectly in keeping with both traditional and modern interiors.  It also adds the potential for a remarkable degree of control for each individual picture.

Innovative use of optics and filters allows us to tune each fitting to a canvas’ size, material and tones giving consistent light and colour rendering.  We work with the ArtView to deliver wholly bespoke lighting for fine art collections or individual treasures.

The ArtView has had such incredible feedback that we now have complementary solutions for much smaller pictures too so the range works comfortably together.

Private Art Collection lit with bespoke ArtView picture lights on hanging rail system

Picture lighting with downlights, surface spots and track systems

Picture lights aren’t the only option for lighting artwork.  Angled downlights can be a discreet alternative and can give a wonderful result when lighting groups of pictures where traditional picture lights simply wouldn’t fit. A downlight gives a different effect with more of a cone of light, but it can be very effective where the picture is the focal point and a little wider ambient light is desirable.

Surface mounted spots and/or track systems enable both more flexibility and – if they can be mounted further away and if beam angles are varied – more precise light distribution. There is often a trade off though between this and how discrete the fittings are, even when using some of the neatest fittings on the market.

Whether recessed or visible, the quality of the light source is critical to the quality of the end results.  For efficiency and picture conservation reasons LEDs should be used: excellent colour and colour rendering are always important, but particularly so when lighting artwork. We use a wide range of light fittings depending on the output and beam widths required, fixing points available, size and finish of the light fittings etc.  However all of them have outstanding colour rendering and excellent dimming capabilities.

Oil painting showing the precise lighting that can be achieved with a framing projector

Framing projectors offer a very precise way of lighting artwork

Framing projectors are a different approach to lighting pictures or sculpture.  Less commonly seen in residential situations, framing projectors provide a way to frame art with no light spill.

There are broadly two routes, with very different advantages, disadvantages and costs.

Surface mounted picture framing projector

These are essentially like mini theatre lights, with shutters to frame any straight sided shape. They are relatively inexpensive compared to  other projector options and because they are surface mounted they don’t have particular build or accessibility constraints. They are best set up professionally but can be set up by the end user. Working out the angles of reflectance before the wiring is done is very important.  They look fabulous in more industrial/gallery style homes or locations, but probably aren’t the right route in a period setting.

Ceiling recessed framing projector

These need to be professionally set up, and can be designed to frame any shape. They are a serious investment in kit and design and commissioning expertise.  In order to make them very discrete from the room side they need both a deep void space to sit in and access from above to facilitate lamp changing and maintenance.

Since developing the ArtView picture light we have found that we use considerably fewer framing projectors; in side by side testing the ArtView is often the preferred option.  However every situation is different and so framing projectors remain a valuable tool in our armoury.

Artwork clients

Much of our work lighting art collections is for private clients and usually that work has to remain private.  However we’re also delighted to have the following as clients

Swinton Park logo Gisborough Hall logo St Catharine's College, Cambridge, logo

Picture lighting and lighting artwork posts