A Second Age of Enlightenment: Illuminating Kenwood House

Image: Kenwood House (TM Lighting)

TM Lighting explains how it illuminated Kenwood House’s art collection with their innovative TM MasterLight, enhancing the visitor experience while preserving the historic integrity of the iconic mansion and achieving conservation and sustainability goals.

The splendid convergence of art and history found at Kenwood House deserves to be shown in only the best light. The magnificent neo-classical mansion nestled on the edge of Hampstead Heath in London has witnessed centuries of transformation from its 17th-century origins, through the Enlightenment, to its opulent 20th-century makeover when Lord Iveagh, its final private owner, bequeathed it to the nation. Donated along with his remarkable collection of 63 Old Master paintings, Kenwood House now stands as a testament to philanthropy, housing one of the world’s most impressive collections of Old Master works, meticulously cared for by English Heritage.

Helping to honour this legacy of philanthropy and collecting, TM Lighting, a leader in specialised art lighting, embarked on a mission to illuminate Kenwood House’s artistic treasures, utilising its newest product, the TM MasterLight. Its task was to enhance the visitor experience, all while respecting the historic integrity of this iconic mansion.

An Historic Gem

Kenwood House is an artistic treasure trove, with works by renowned British artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and George Romney adorning its Georgian interiors. However, the true jewels of the collection hail from the European continent, including Rembrandt’s self-portrait from 1665 and Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece, “The Guitar Player” (c. 1672). Vermeer’s paintings are particularly rare, with fewer than 40 confirmed works in existence, making the task of lighting “The Guitar Player” a rare privilege.

Modernising The Museum

English Heritage recognised the need for a lighting upgrade to better showcase the collection’s magnificence, and appointed TM Lighting to replace outdated picture lights that had been in place for over two decades. The replacement offered by TM Lighting was unique and effective.

TM Lighting’s typical approach within historic houses involves the use of traditional hoods that seamlessly blend with heritage spaces while minimising glare. However, Kenwood House presented a different challenge, which required the development of an entirely new product. The result of months of R&D was the TM MasterLight, a high-performance miniature LED picture light capable of illuminating four-meter-high canvases from a minimal profile.

“We are delighted”, said Wendy Monkhouse, Senior Curator with English Heritage; ”the TM MasterLight provides a uniform and gentle spread of light across the entirety of each painting. We deliberately chose the contemporary design because its discreet profile allows the light fixture to disappear into the background, giving more focus to the works of art on display.”

This was the perfect marriage of contemporary and classic, with uncompromising optical performance for large works yet with an elegant front ‘cowl’ that provides glare control (obscuring the view of the light source). This contemporary lighting solution seamlessly merges with the Robert Adam-designed rooms, allowing the artworks to take centre stage, akin to a museum or gallery setting. The brass finish further complemented the interiors and blended in tones with the gold framing, achieving a harmonious balance between art and illumination.

Portraits at Kenwood House (TM Lighting)

Conservation Levels

A vital concern during the relighting project was ensuring that the light source would effectively meet conservation requirements. TM Lighting utilises LED technology across all its products, which minimises the amount of ultraviolet or infrared light that reaches the artwork and produces no forward heat throw. The introduction of the TM MasterLight enabled lux (the amount of light in a certain area) to be set to controlled levels. “Conservation and preservation of the collection are of paramount importance” says Monkhouse; “using TM’s technology and product flexibility enable us to set precise conservation light levels for the pieces on display.”

A Delicate Art

Lighting masterpieces is an art in itself. Joe Batten, TM Lighting’s Head Technician, had the honour of installing and positioning the lighting for Vermeer’s “The Guitar Player.” His expertise and attention to detail ensured that the artwork received the lighting it deserved, captivating visitors with its beauty.

Preserving Visual Hierarchy

In each room at Kenwood, careful consideration was given to maintaining the ‘visual hierarchy’ provided by the lighting solution, ensuring that paintings remained the focal point. In the Music Room, the team employed the TM Linear 400 to “uplight” portions of the painted wallpaper, matching the colour rendition of the surrounding environment, and providing a softer, less distracting illumination. This approach allowed the paintings in the room to shine, including the two works by Joshua Reynolds.

Sustainability and Efficiency

TM Lighting not only enhanced the visual experience but also contributed to English Heritage’s sustainability goals. By upgrading the lighting system, it achieved significantly more efficient energy consumption. Previously, the collection required 1000 watts to be fully lit, but with TM Lighting’s solution, it now operates at a higher colour rendition while using less than 300 watts. This reduction in energy consumption not only lowers operating costs but also aligns with Kenwood House’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

Andrew Molyneux, co-founding director of TM Lighting, said: “We are honoured to play a part in the re-display of the Iveagh bequest in these rooms. The continuous evolution of our picture lighting technology over the years has led to the development of the MasterLight, a tool that allows us to sculpt light with unparalleled precision. While maintaining conservation standards, we tailored each light individually to each artwork, introducing a lighting hierarchy to draw focus to the most significant pieces within this space creating a more engaging experience of the collection.”

In reilluminating Kenwood House’s exceptional art collection, TM Lighting has seamlessly merged the past with the present. Bringing in what may be termed a ‘Second Age of Enlightenment’ to the house’s collection, its innovative lighting solutions have breathed even more life into the historic mansion, allowing its artistic treasures to shine in all their glory. Visitors can explore the house with a heightened appreciation for the masterpieces that grace Kenwood’s interiors; TM Lighting’s contribution ensures that Iveagh’s legacy will continue to be celebrated for generations to come with a truly enlightening experience.