Light and Darkness

Daylight, gaslight and flickering flames. Explore the way artists have depicted different kinds of light and used it to create depth and atmosphere. See Nordic fin de siècle paintings, photographs, and applied art, all with an aspect of light to them.

Images: Carl Larsson, In the Kitchen Garden. Anna Boberg, Northern Lights. Anders Zorn, castles in the Air (the images are cropped)

Carl Larsson, In the Kitchen Garden. Anna Boberg, Northern Lights. Anders Zorn, Castles in the Air (the images are cropped)

20 June 2012 – 3 February 2013

Light and Darkness 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

Light and Darkness 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?

 New approach to light

In the 19th century, there was great interest in the realistic depiction of light. Art academy students pored over the chiaroscuro paintings of the 17th-century masters – dark scenes lit by a single candle or a light source hidden from the viewer.

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.

Sharp sunlit scenes and soft shadows

In the 1880s, many Swedish artists travelled to France, where they captured sharp sunlit scenes with bright colours and few shadows. Then a decade later, now back Sweden, their palette changed. The colours became stronger and more saturated, the sunlight warmer, the shadows less harsh. The focus was more on exploring several shades of the same colour.

Revolutionary lighting technology

The new lighting technology – gaslight, oil lamps and soon electric light – revolutionised people’s lives. Gaslight changed the cityscape and made the streets accessible, even after dark. The oil lamp was the first industrial product to adorn every home. It brought with it a whole new kind of indoor light that changed people’s social life. It became possible for everyone to work, read and socialise around the focal point of the lamp.

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.

Prins Eugen: Fabriken. Utsikt från Waldemarsudde mot gamla Saltsjökvarn.
Prince Eugen, The Factory. View from Waldemars-
udde towards the Old Saltsjökvarn


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Price: SEK 59

Order the catalogue from the online Bookshop

Image: Karl Hultström, Art Nouveau table lamp.
Karl Hultström, Art Nouveau table lamp 


Art Library and Museum Archives,
Holmamiralens väg 2,
Skeppsholmen, Stockholm 

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