Light and Darkness in Real Life and in Art

The exhibition Light and Darkness in Stockholm presents around 70 paintings by Nordic fin de siècle artists such as Carl Larsson, Anna Boberg, Bertha Wegman, Eugen Jansson and Anders Zorn, along with lamps, candlesticks and other objects with associations to light. Also on display are a few photographs in which light and shade are key components. All the objects in the exhibition come from Nationalmuseum’s own collections. Light in art and life explores how artists have worked with illumination and shadow, bold colours and shades of grey to imitate different kinds of light and to create the illusion of depth and atmospheric phenomena. The exhibition answers a range of questions about light in reality and light in art. What are the light sources? How can they be spotted in the picture? How have the artists used the light as an effect and a motif ?
In the 19th century, there was great interest in the realistic depiction of light. Then, from the middle of the century, plein air painting became the popular form. The artists moved out of their studios to paint nature in situ, as it really looked. Out of this came a new way of working with light, as the artists started exploring atmospheric phenomena and optical effects. In the 1880s many Nordic artists travelled to France, where they captured sharp sunlit scenes with bright colours and few shadows. The new lighting technology – gaslight, oil lamps and soon electric light – revolutionised people’s lives. Artificial light also played its role in art: as a motif or as a hidden light source. And light fittings of various kinds became the preserve of talented designers.