A remarkable exploration of the use of light, both as a subject and a medium, in art from the last 200 years


ISBN: 9781849768047 Category:

Kerryn Greenberg


Light has been an enduring subject in art. In every conceivable media, artists have exploited the contrasts between light and dark, opposed cool and warm colours, drawn on science, and attempted to capture the transient effects of light and its emotional associations.

This book explores how artists have perceived, illustrated and utilised light since the eighteenth century. Beginning with the British artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) who captured triumphant explosions of light and sought to represent its ephemerality in paint, it reveals how his expressive use of colour and interest in evanescent light influenced the French Impressionists. For them, light became the subject itself, as the likes of Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Alfred Sisley (1839-99) and others ventured outside to capture the momentary effects of sunlight on canvas. Exploring later innovations in photographic processes, the book also highlights how photography became a critical vehicle through which artists began to use light itself as a medium, eschewing subject matter to create photographs that more closely resembled moving abstractions than still images. While early art-historical associations with light tend to be sublime or spiritual, by the 1960s artists including Dan Flavin (1933-96), James Turrell (1943) and Lis Rhodes (1942-) had begun to work with artificial light to create new types of sculptures and immersive installations, repositioning the spectator as participant. Many artists like Olafur Eliasson (1967-) and Tacita Dean (1965-) continue to work with light, encouraging viewers to question their own positions and perspectives.

Showcasing over 100 remarkable artworks from the past 200 years, this beautiful book reveals how the intangibility of light continues to fascinate.
Light: Works from Tate’s Collection at ACMI, Melbourne, Australia. until 13th November 2022
Light from Tate: 1700s to Now at Auckland Art Gallery Toi Tamaki 25 February-25 June 2023

Additional information

Weight 1000 g
Dimensions 21.1 x 26.4 cm
Publisher name Tate Publishing
Publication date 20 November 2022
Number of pages 224
Format Paperback / softback
Dimensions 21.1 x 26.4 cm
Weight 1000 g


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Kerryn Greenberg is an art historian and curator, and former Head of International Collection Exhibitions at Tate.