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Let there be Light

Rembrandt’s Light is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until February 2020.

Sean Sexton, from Clare, is renowned for his collections of historic photographs ranging from the earliest daguerrotypes (the earliest photographs) to the Famine clearances and the 1916 Rising and Civil War. His photographs were the centre piece of the Photographers’ Gallery’s 1916 Centenary Exhibition four years ago.

We asked him to assess the Rembrandt’s Light exhibition- which relies on cinematography and photographic techniques to showcase the paintings- with the same critical eye he casts over his famous photograph collections.

Rembrandt’s self portrait.

What is Rembrandt lighting?

Rembrandt lighting is a dramatic light that makes use of strong contrasts between light and dark. It is a technique that has become standard in portrait photography.

These are usually bold contrasts that affect the whole composition, with a shadow cast over the model’s face.

Adele’s album cover.

Film director Cecil B DeMille is credited as the first person to use the term Rembrandt lighting, while shooting the 1915 film Warren’s of Virginia. Initially, studio bosses were worried about the actors’ faces only being ‘half lit’ but after he used the name of the famous (and priceless) Dutch artist, they soon saw the ‘light’.

Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb

Sean Sexton writes:

There are four really great paintings in this exhibition: A Self Portrait in a Flat Cap, Girl at a Window, A Woman in Bed, Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet and A Woman Bathing in a Stream, which is my favourite.

Rembrandt did many self portraits, accurately and cruelly, from youth to old age. The self portrait here is very good but perhaps not quite as good as the one in the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

A Woman Bathing.

What is evident is the humanity and tenderness in his paintings. You actually think you are in the presence of his sitters.

Many experts says he was one of the greatest painters ever- I must agree. There is little one can really write about a great painter- you must look at his or her paintings.

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This is an absolute ‘must see’ exhibition.

A Woman in Bed.

There is only one way to see better Rembrandts and that’s at The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for the 350th anniversary exhibition. There you will see his masterpiece The Night Watch.

But be prepared for very long queues, crowds and tourists taking selfies.

Girl at a Window

At this exhibition in Dulwich they have achieved wonders with the lighting in the dark room and sometimes it’s like the subject is there in the room with you, or at least a hologram of sorts.

Irish women have always made up for the lack of visual style so often demonstrated by Irishmen. So I appeal to them- bring their men to this and help them develop on.

The Denial of St Peter.
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