From the start, artists exploited artificial light. Cave painters worked by juddering lamplight, which must also have created cinematic effects of movement in their paintings.
Animals and Birds, Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave, Ardeche (cave painting), Paleolithic © Bridgeman Images
For Renaissance artists candlelight was the light of knowledge. Through after-hours study, artisan-artists transformed themselves into visual poets and philosophers (See main image, an etching by Enea Vico from 1547, showing students of Baccio Bandinelli studying by candlelight).
The 17th-century craze for chiaroscuro produced innumerable night scenes, often — as in Georges de La Tour’s work — with overtones of spiritual drama, in which candlelight embodied transience and revelation.
Georges de la Tour, Adoration of the Shepherds
Electric light finally liberated artists from daylight-dependence. The natural light-source almost vanished from painting, as artists focused on other dimensions of pictorial space. Electric light has been employed to mood-altering effect in the work of artists such as Dan Flavin and James Turrell.
Dan Flavin, Greens crossing greens (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green), 1966. The Art Archive / The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY / Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Panza Collection, 1991 © 2014 Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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