Lighting a medieval & georgian country house
Discreet layered lighting delivers a sympathetic lighting scheme for this medieval and georgian gem. Bespoke lighting for the owners’ remarkable art collection is an important element of the design.
All artwork benefits from sympathetic lighting, but great artwork deserves something truly special. Lighting artwork is a specialist area 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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
27 Jul 2018
We’re really excited to be working with Hever Castle lighting a unique exhibition opening in Autumn 2018. The new permanent exhibition, guest curated by renowned historian David Starkey, charts the saga of the Tudors from the Wars of the Roses through to the Reformation. Brilliant is lighting over twenty…
02 Oct 2018
We’re incredibly proud to be lighting a unique collection of artwork at Hever Castle. The exhibition charting the history of the Tudors though a unique collection of portraits is launched tomorrow and there’s a preview on ITN tonight. The collection of portraits brought together by Hever Castle is extraordinary. We feel…
29 Apr 2017
We work with a number of historic houses and we’re often involved in lighting artwork and lighting art collections. We respect the privacy of our clients and we don’t often get a chance to share the details. We’re indebted to our clients in this particular project for letting us show…
03 Jan 2019
I first came across the story of the Vaughan Turner collections on the BBC website in 2016; two collections of delicate watercolours by JMW Turner, collected by Henry Vaughan and left to the National Gallery of Ireland and the Scottish National Gallery. They’re striking for a few reasons but what grabbed…
19 Aug 2013
If you’ve got some beautiful pictures you’ll know how tricky it can be to be light them. But what are your options? Traditional picture lighting has been around a long time and does an acceptable job for many people, but is there a better way of doing it? There…