14th May 2021

Originally published on The House Directory Blog.

Whether your art collection is composed of a selection of prints, family photographs, the most sought-after contemporary art or priceless Old Masters, the critical question is, how to light art. Lighting artwork effectively will show it off to its best advantage, create mood and maintain the appearance and quality of your art collection. TM Lighting have developed a specialist range of light fittings to enhance and protect artwork. Here is TM Lighting’s guide to how to light art.


Images: Apsley House – English Heritage – The Wellington Collection – A Musical Party, Pieter de Hooch – Classic Picture Light switched off under daylight (Top image). Classic Picture Light switched on under daylight (Bottom image). Photography: Bol Design

How does natural daylight effect artwork?

Daylight allows art to be perceived in its most natural condition, with minimal distortion to colour in artwork. However, natural daylight causes fading with the risk of damage from ultraviolet (UV), Infra Red (IR), heat and quantity of light. While daylight is the best light to view artwork, it is better suited to studying (for short periods of time) rather than long-term presentation of art.

What types of lighting are best for illuminating artwork?

LED is the best light source for illuminating art, with some provisos. LED is also the sustainable option, as it can be as much as 10x more efficient than equivalent incandescent light, as well as being conservation-friendly to art, exhibiting no UV, IR or projected heat. The most important thing about art is its appearance. The correct type of light is crucial to allowing the perception of depth, texture, detail, vibrancy and colour. There are lots of different types of LEDs on the market, the majority of which are unsuitable for lighting artwork.

At TM Lighting we created a simple guide to help select the best LED lighting for art. We call this the Three C’s:

1. Colour Rendition (CRI). Colour rendition is a quantitative measure for a light source to render colours faithfully in comparison with natural light. Daylight (natural light) is used as the benchmark 100 CRI (100%). When choosing LEDs for lighting art, we recommend using 95+ CRI.

2. Colour Temperature (CCT). Choose a warmth of light suitable for your environment. LED lighting is available in a range of warmth of light. This can affect the look and feel of artwork and its environment. 2700K (incandescent warm white) is suitable for homes and lifestyle projects, whilst 3000K (neutral warm white) is preferable for contemporary art galleries and commercial spaces. 4000K (cool white) is also used in contemporary galleries and is ideal for viewing silver and diamonds.

3. Colour Consistency. Choose a reputable manufacturer to ensure the same colour and quality of light across a collection, to maintain a consistent appearance.

From the outset, TM Lighting set a benchmark by using a minimum of 95 CRI. We pioneered a new technique for lighting artwork with picture lights, allowing the light to spread evenly on tall canvases (even as tall as 3m), while maintaining an unrivalled quality of light.

When do ceiling mounted accent lights (spotlights) work best?

Lighting artwork from the ceiling can be very effective, but it is necessary to plan it well. It is important to position accent lights to avoid reflections or cast shadows on the canvas – neither too far from the lit wall, nor too close. Avoid randomly positioned and distracting lights on the ceiling. Use adjustable recessed downlights with the lamp deeply recessed to avoid glare from the light.

Our Accent Lights can provide more flexibility, but these lights are more conspicuous. In older properties, Accent Lights can be used very effectively hidden behind beams.

For clients with evolving art collections, TM Lighting has designed the pluggable spotlight, ArtPoint™. This enables spotlights to be plugged into a small electrical node placed on the ceiling. When a light is not required, it can be easily removed and replaced by a blanking plate. The system is ideal for those requiring the flexibility of track lighting, with the discretion of a single, standalone spotlight.

In which situations are track lights superior to ceiling mounted accent lights?

Commercial galleries and museums need the flexibility to move and change lights quickly and easily. A track lighting system allows light to be directed wherever it is needed. This system looks great in contemporary spaces with clean lines. A track is effective especially if a client plans to regularly change artwork.

TM’s ‘Gallery150 Spotlight’ for track systems provides further flexibility with interchangeable, snap-in lenses to help sculpt the beam shape more precisely onto a canvas. Ceiling mounted accent lights are best used for static exhibitions, where flexibility is not as much of an issue: for example, in historic houses, where displays are usually permanent – or a private residence where artwork is unlikely to be moved frequently.

When would you recommend using picture lights instead of accent lights?

Picture lights offer more precise and controlled lighting that ensures the artwork is the focus. Accent lights provide flexibility but risk creating “scallops” of light, which distract from the art. Accent lights can be effective if multiples are directed onto a work of art, but picture lights will always create more intimacy and mood. A modern aesthetic can be achieved with minimal, pencil-thin picture lights and the product finish also makes a big difference, with chrome, nickel or wall colour matched lights providing a contemporary look, whilst gold or antique plated finishes are more appropriate for period or heritage interiors. There is no hard and fast rule and often, choice is dictated by personal preference or the availability of a power connection.

What types of lighting have the potential to damage artwork?

All light sources can damage artworks. Understanding what causes this damage is the best way to select the best light source. Fading is caused by four things:  40% by Ultra Violet (UV), 25% Heat, 25% Visible Light (the amount of light), with the balance caused by miscellany. Daylight has all of these, so it is not ideal for viewing artwork for sustained periods of time. Therefore, it is advisable to use UV filters on windows and mesh blinds or curtains when rooms are unused.

LED is unquestionably the best option for preservation and sustainability due to its energy efficiency.

A general note to lighting artwork: the key to successful lighting, and in particular to lighting artwork, is the careful consideration and curation of light – where, and just as importantly, where not to use it.

Playing with the visual hierarchy of light, by accentuating objects or features, will provide a good balance of light and allow cherished items the prominence they deserve. We believe that when art is lit to best advantage, it is transformative. Our overriding aim is to help our clients understand the impact that great lighting can have, helping them to fall in love with their art all over again.