Can lighting completely change one's perception of a work of art?

Les Arts Decoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts) in Paris was founded in the late 1800s by the desire of a group of collectors with the aim of “keeping the attention on arts culture alive, seeking to make use of its beauty”, developing links between industry, culture, design and production. The museum currently collects approximately 150,000 items of various types, materials and techniques.

With the collaboration of lighting designer Emmanuel Clair, we have had the pleasure of participating in the lighting system restoration of the museum’s medieval and Renaissance wing.  A challenge made particularly interesting by the type of works present and by a very specific goal: to increase the perception of colour in works of art.

The previous lighting system dates back to the 1970s and mainly comprised halogen sources Our intervention was based on replacing obsolete lamp bodies with new LED solutions, achieving a significant energy-saving benefit. Only in the Galerie des Retables, were 29 18W spotlights used versus the previous 60 100W spotlights.

All installed products are equipped with special ultra HD diodes, developed in partnership with Cree. These diodes are characterised by a high colour performance index, which is of crucial importance for ensuring the full colour range.

A visible and significant change, as can be seen in a quick comparison between the images of some works before and after our intervention. 

    In addition to enhancing the colours of some works, the lighting also had a spiritual implication. It suffices to look at “The Virgin and Child” polyptych in the Galerie des Retables: here, the light transforms into an aura that emphasises the golden finish, highlights the small objects in the hands of the characters and the weave of their clothes, aspects that, with the previous lighting, went unnoticed.

    It is a lighting system that does not have the sole purpose of lighting the up a work of art, enabling visitors to look at it, but has an added value.

    The lighting becomes a spiritual vehicle and acts as a mediator for visitors, returning the original meaning to a work of art, namely, that which the artist had in mind for the piece.


    Interview with Emmanuel Clair of Light Cibles, Project Lighting Designer.