Art Lighting

When art lighting is done correctly, lighting artwork can really help accentuate and enhance the works by adding drama and impact, by illuminating the surfaces to bring out the colours and the texture effectively.

However if done incorrectly lighting can have a serious negative impact on the pigmentation and materials used within the paintings, reacting with the origional materials causing premature aging and degradation to the art work. When considering how much some paintings are worth, it is easy to see why the correct specification of lighting is important.

Here the lighting design studio discuss several important factors to consider when lighting your art works


How much light is enough light?

If we go back to thinking about what light is, light acts as a wave. In its wave form white light consists of a spectrum of electromagnetic radiation – which in its simplest term is a form of energy. Generally, the higher the frequency of the light the higher the energy of that light and in effect the more damage that light can cause. So lights which emit higher levels of Ultraviolet should be avoided or filtered if being used to light artwork.

This is why a lot of galleries are dimly lit (or they should be) and limit their exposure to light. This is because less light for limited periods reduces the likelihood of damage to the painting.

The exact illuminance recommendations are given by CIE documentation and are published by public galleries such as the National Gallery.
So the best form of light for art work would be no light at all! But not sure how successful a gallery would be if people had to walk around with night vision goggles on!

So the difficulty is getting the balance right, especially in a public space which is to be viewed by elderly people who due to the degradation of our eyes require more light to see the detail clearer. It is a fine balance which needs to be discussed with the curator as to what the acceptable light levels should be whilst minimizing damage to the painting.


Due to the high levels of UV in sunlight direct sunlight should be avoided on all paintings. Sunlight should be filtered and/or louvred heavily to prevent direct contact, as it is by far the most powerful cause of premature aging for paintings, this is especially important with water colours and drawings which can fade very quickly under direct light.

What’s the best type of luminaires and are LEDs the answer for art work?

Due to the construction of the LED light source being designed to give specific parts of light in the visible spectrum they have been designed to minimize high amounts of infrared and ultraviolet light. Heat is also minimized as the LED chip is designed to push heat backwards into the fitting rather than forward like a conventional halogen bulb.
So generally LEDs are a good light source for use on art work. However the way that an LED light source renders colours is not always as good as conventional light sources.

The location and mounting of fittings really depends on the aesthetic of the surround and location of the paintings.
Generally most galleries will opt for a track and spot system due to the flexibility but some prefer lighting mounted off the wall off an arm in front of the paintings. Both are effective ways of lighting art work but care should be taken to ensuring that heat will not be an issue if mounted close to the art work.

Incident Glare

This occurs when we see the reflection of the light source on the painting due either to the reflective nature of the medium used or because a glass screen has been placed over the painting to protect it

Incidence glare can be avoided by the careful consideration of the lighting equipment in relation to the viewer location and using equipment that can be correctly snooted and baffled to reduce the direct impact of the light source.
The most effective way of locating light sources is to do a mock up and try it out as it is extremely difficult to model the incident glare effectively.

If you would like us to look at lighting for your artwork, please do get in touch