Techniques for lighting artwork

New advances in technology mean you can now show off art in its best light and save money at the same time. Roz Hanna finds out how.

When interior designer April Russell was deciding how to position and light a contemporary artwork by Nick Cave in the study of a Belgravia town house, she asked the owner (a well-known collector) if he wanted the piece represented as he’d seen it in the gallery and then she designed a lighting scheme to create the desired atmosphere within the room. ‘I decided to go with LEDs recessed into the ceiling for this piece, but each artwork has to be considered on its own merits,’ she says. ‘You need to understand how the owner wants to enjoy the work.’

Miss Russell (020–3055 0090; set up her interior-design company in response to the growth of private collectors who required help with showcasing their artworks. To create the best effects in a room, she suggests: ‘Have a mix of light from different sources, otherwise rooms can end up being too bright. Smaller pictures can be put on little table stands or easels, lit by a lamp to give a friendlier source. For some artworks, you can get a portable floor light.’

LED lighting is acknowledged as the best approach. ‘There are no damaging UV rays, no infrared, no heat emitted and it gives massive energy savings,’ says Richard Paddison, a director at Ecoled, which manufactures and designs lighting schemes for galleries and museums as well as for private collectors (020– 8492 7633;

‘However, you have to choose the right LED equipment for serious art. It should have a full spectrum (CRI 95 and above) to show colours in their truest form,’ he explains. CRI is the colour rendering index, a scale of light from one to 100 where 100 is the Sun. ‘For serious art, the closer to 100, the better and you also have to consider the Kelvin scale, which measures white light.’

Miss Russell cautions: ‘Sculptures have another set of rules. I light them from behind for extra drama or I create a niche or plinth and light it from above, so the piece has its own stage.’ Mr Paddison agrees: ‘One client who lives in a South Kensington mews house wanted a sculpture under the stairs, a dark and difficult location. We put a mirror behind and lit it with thin LED strips on the base of the stairs and two overhead LED spotlights.’

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TM Lighting was set up in 2012 by Andrew Molyneux and Harry Triggs to specialise in lighting art (020–7278 1600; ‘Our aim is to bring museum-grade lighting to the home,’ says Mr Molyneux. He uses different approaches, which range from lighting the key picture within a group and letting the light spill onto other works to using accent lights to project a pool of light onto the group. ‘Or, for a serious collection, we light every piece specifically using individual lights.’

He continues: ‘With all of these solutions, we create a secondary layer of vertical illumination to provide the warmth of the reflected colour of the artwork into the room, which adds depth to your lighting scheme. Avoid placing any artworks that have reflect- ive glass or high gloss levels directly opposite large windows and never use fluorescent lighting—it emits UV and also has very poor rendition of colour.’

TM offers a range of specialist lights, including a picture light that is very good for darker, older pieces as it picks up details you might not otherwise see. ‘It’s important to light the canvas, not the frame,’ adds Mr Molyneux.

At another, more complicated, end of the scale, the company has just completed its most challenging job to date—lighting a room covered from floor to ceilings in murals at Burghley House in Lincolnshire. ‘We love a challenge and nothing could be more challenging—we couldn’t physically attach any lights to the walls or ceiling,’ says Mr Molyneux. ‘The mural had so much detail that, if you washed it completely with light, it would become flat art, so we picked out the columns and lit it as if it was a piece of architecture. We used a floor-standing uplight mounted above the floor and lights on a rod running round the perimeter of the room.’

Need to know: LED

  • Conservation: No projected heat, no ultraviolet, no infrared
  • Energy-saving: Total energy and main- tenance saving on 100 TM picture lights versus picture lights using S15 Bulb is about £4,000 a year
  • Evenly lit canvases: Even on paintings bigger than 10ft