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Chiaroscuro to the extreme.
November 2, 2008 6:55 AM   Subscribe

What are some great examples of paintings that make dramatic use of light and shadow?

I have to shoot a short film noir as a final project for my film class. In addition to researching past examples of films noir, I'd also like to turn to famous and/or obscure paintings for inspiration. I'd like to know what paintings you think use light and shadow rather effectively. Any artist will do. Thanks!
posted by Neilopolis to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
any rembrandt or carravaggio. just do a google search.
posted by spicynuts at 7:07 AM on November 2, 2008


Check out paintings by Caravaggio or Rembrandt.

What about a Google search on "chiaroscuro painting" ?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:10 AM on November 2, 2008


Levitan's The Birch Grove
posted by Chairboy at 7:12 AM on November 2, 2008


Are there any good 20th-century examples of chiaroscuro painting as well? Caravaggio and Rembrandt are awesome, but I'm also looking for more obscure examples as well. I apologize for not including that in the original question.
posted by Neilopolis at 7:25 AM on November 2, 2008


With regard to the 20th century, have a look at Giorgio di Chirico...
posted by Chairboy at 7:30 AM on November 2, 2008


Here are some examples off the top of my head, some of whom are more obscure than others:

Artemesia Gentileschi
Francisco de Zurbaran
Francisco Goya
Eugene Delacroix
posted by jennyesq at 7:45 AM on November 2, 2008


Edward Hopper maybe?
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:59 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe Maxfield Parish?
posted by Sailormom at 8:10 AM on November 2, 2008


Rene Magritte's Empire of Light is an interesting use of light.

And then there is the one and only Painter of Lightâ„¢, Thomas Kinkade.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 8:16 AM on November 2, 2008


maxfield parrish? really?

20th-century figuration has largely been characterized by more shallow lighting situations. even in paintings that depict really dramatic lighting (with pronounced cast shadows etc.), the palettes used tend to emphasize flatness. full on, caravaggio-style chiaroscuro is seen as perhaps a touch regressive, more the purview of "neo-traditional" figurationists of dubious significance.

given the "noir" theme, hopper is certainly the most obvious choice.

balthus is also good (girl with cat, solitaire, the golden days, and many others).

something like the family by paula rego could work.

some early eric fischl paintings fit the bill (bad boy, and sleepwalker—probably his most famous paintings—come to mind) as do some more recent pieces (the bed, the chair, head to foot, the krefield project, etc. etc.).

gerhard richter's october 18, 1977 cycle, made from news photographs of the baader-meinhof group assassinations, look the part and are a good deal more interesting than any of these.

vilhelm hammershøi (d. 1916), though not as "noirish" certainly does "brooding" pretty well.
posted by wreckingball at 9:29 AM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Appreciate the replies, everyone! Keep 'em coming.
posted by Neilopolis at 9:45 AM on November 2, 2008


One random day I walked into a Gerrit Dou exhibit. He is a contemporary of Hals, 17th Century Dutch. I love his darker paintings.
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:05 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, this painting in particular.
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:07 AM on November 2, 2008


Turner - he has to be the absolute master of light in my book. Not 20th century though
posted by mattoxic at 11:07 AM on November 2, 2008


maxfield parrish? really?

20th-century figuration has largely been characterized by more shallow lighting situations. even in paintings that depict really dramatic lighting (with pronounced cast shadows etc.), the palettes used tend to emphasize flatness. full on, caravaggio-style chiaroscuro is seen as perhaps a touch regressive, more the purview of "neo-traditional" figurationists of dubious significance.


Which pretty much describes Parrish, no? Classically regressive chiaroscuro and composition. Regardless of whether or not he was a great painter painting for important audiences, he certainly knew how to wring (melo)drama out of strongly built up light and dark contrasts. His paintings seen in person have really amazing depth and contrast. It's just unfortunate that they happen to be of, um, the Pied Piper.

Then again, I find Caravaggio to be totally melodramatic as well. But we excuse him because it was a longer time ago.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2008


My personal favorite, "Joseph the Carpenter" The candlelight thing was a specialty of de la Tour.
posted by nax at 11:25 AM on November 2, 2008


I think you got some good suggestions. And I agree that you should look at Edward Hopper as well. His paintings are moody and have some of the nicest gradations of light and color that I have seen. I'm always inspired by his work. The Whitney Museum in New York has a great collection.
posted by bookshelves at 11:30 AM on November 2, 2008


Steven Conroy's work in the 80's and 90's might be worth your checking out. Lots of images of people walking into dark rooms from light rooms, tons of back-lit doorways. This is also his work, but different from what is described above - much more old school.

http://www.nationalgalleries.org/index.php/collection/online_az/4:322/results/0/445/

You may remember Conroy's work from the Boyle film Shallow Grave (also a nice study in the use of light in film) - one of his paintings figured prominently in the set design and help define the characters early in the film. Shallow Grave is a great noirish film, nice bridge between the Coens and Hitchcock.

There is a book of the Conroy work published in the mid 90's that would contain a lot of what you are looking for.
posted by chuke at 1:01 PM on November 2, 2008


A very famous painting that uses light and shadow very effectively is 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump' by Joseph Wright of Derby. A search of the National Gallery's site for 'light and shadow' will pull up lots of other interesting paintings.
posted by davemack at 1:24 PM on November 2, 2008


The word that describes what you're looking for is chiaroscuro. You might like to try searching that word to find even more examples.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:58 PM on November 2, 2008


Oh snap, sorry, I missed that above.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:58 PM on November 2, 2008


I just discovered Goya's Black Paintings because of this thread. Before, I was only familiar with Saturn Devouring His Son. Absolutely great!
posted by Neilopolis at 5:29 PM on November 2, 2008


Jan Vermeer is famous for his use of light.

Check out especially, the Geographer, View of Delft and (appropriately enough), the Art of Painting.

Top notch stuff.
posted by Mephisto at 7:21 PM on November 2, 2008


I'd also stand by Parrish as an example of "dramatic use of light and shadow," although certainly the emphasis for him is on light and color.

I'd also toss in Joseph Wright's The Discovery of Phosphorus, which I found while trying to remember the painting davemack linked to (thanks, davemack; that would've driven me crazy otherwise!).
posted by kimota at 5:31 AM on November 3, 2008


There's some neat and obscure stuff here, such as this guy.

Grant Wood's got some cool examples.

And don't miss Rockwell Kent, or NC Wyeth, or Wanda Gag, or Thomas Hart Benton.

And absolutely, Maxfield Parrish.

You pretty much can't miss with the best painters from the Art Deco era.

Then there's Samuel Palmer.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2008


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