16th October 2023

Kenwood House Case Study

Our work brings ‘art to light’ for historic houses, galleries, museums, auction houses and private residences, utilising diverse solutions for all. For our recent project at the magnificent neo-classical Kenwood House, we utilised solutions that may more usually be found in our modern projects, and in doing so, has revealed an original way to illuminate art in historic buildings.

The 17th century Kenwood House lies on the edge of Hampstead Heath and received a major redesign by Robert Adam during the 18thcentury. Its opulent interiors were given their real zenith in the 20th century, however, when its final private owner, Lord Iveagh, gave the house and his personal collection of 63 Old Master paintings to the nation. Iveagh bestowed it on the condition that the house was to provide the feel of an ‘artistic home of a gentleman of the 18th century’ and be made free for the public to access forever. This philanthropic act made Kenwood a home to one of the most impressive collections of Old Master works in the world, all now cared for by English Heritage.

Artistic treasures decorate Kenwood’s Georgian interiors throughout. Works by Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney are highlights of the British artworks in the Iveagh Bequest, but perhaps the best known are by artists from the continent. Rembrandt’s 1665 self-portrait and Johannes Vermeer’s The Guitar Player (c 1672) are some of the finest works in the collection. Less than 40 confirmed Vermeer paintings exist today so lighting one was a rare treat.

A fine collection requires the best lighting to truly shine, and we were tasked to provide our industry leading lighting for Kenwood to make this intention a reality. Following a competitive tender, English Heritage commissioned TM Lighting to relight the highlights in Kenwood’s collection, replacing the outdated picture lights that had originally been installed during the house’s refurbishment over two decades ago.

When utilised in historic interiors, our state-of-the-art picture lights are normally housed within more traditional hoods. They typically fit within a heritage space and are shaped to limit the glare from the light itself. The TM Classic or TM Goodwood Picture Light are two examples of this. This was not the case with Kenwood House. We installed the TM MasterLight, a picture light we developed to provide the performance of a light from the classic range but with a sleek, low-profile aesthetic. Normally most ‘at home’ in contemporary residential interiors, the TM MasterLight was chosen for Kenwood House to blend in with the interiors. The ‘disappearing’ effect is seamless, ensuring the artworks take centre stage. Finished in brass, our contemporary styled products blend into the Robert Adam-designed rooms.

Lighting a world-renowned masterpiece is always a rare privilege. Our Head Technician Joe Batten received the honour of installing and positioning the lighting for Vermeer’s The Guitar Player and Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with Two Circles at Kenwood.

The fine tuning of the MasterLight’s features enables the light to be tailored individually to each artwork enhancing certain pieces giving them more prominence in the space. In some collections, specific artworks absorb light differently, with some requiring more illumination than others. The MasterLight offers individualised control, enhancing flexibility in illuminating an art collection.Within each room at Kenwood, we were conscious to make paintings the top of the visual hierarchy while being equally mindful of other artistic treasures present.

We have aided English Heritage’s sustainability goals with this project, creating a much more efficient energy consumption in the lighting of the Kenwood House collection. Previously the collection required 1000 watts to be fully lit, and our lighting has achieved a more successful, higher colour rendition effect using less than 300 watts. This therefore decreases the running costs for the house and aids its move towards increasing environmental sustainability.

We played our part in adhering to Lord Iveagh’s bequest for the creation of an ‘artistic home of a gentleman of the 18th century’ with our art lighting solution for Kenwood that blended in with its sumptuous interiors and enabled the works to be highlighted with a quality of light that fits their stature and renown. We hope our picture lighting will aid the further appreciation and enjoyment of this impressive art collection in years to come.

Wendy Monkhouse, Senior Curator at English Heritage says, “We are delighted with the new Picture Lights at Kenwood House. TM’s MasterLight has delivered everything we hoped for in relation to lighting the exceptional works in the Iveagh bequest, providing a uniform and gentle spread of light across the entire painting. We deliberately chose the contemporary design because its discreet profile allows the light fixture to disappear into the background, giving more focus to the works of art on display. As well as the aesthetics of the light fixtures and the light they cast, conservation and preservation of the collection are of paramount importance, and using TM’s technology and product flexibility enable us to set precise conservation light levels for the pieces on display.”

Find out more about the TM MasterLight