Flowing; Light: the Fluid Energy of Life.

By Jo Phillips

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Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo
Il sole o Il sole nascente (The sun or Rising Sun)
olio su tela (Oil on Canvas)
155 × 155 cm
Roma, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna

Light. A word that immediately evokes something connected with brightness and peacefulness. Light is the miracle of life, what makes trees and plants grow and produce oxygen, what makes our being possible. It is a warm caress on our skin, a clear halo that embraces everything.

It is symbol and purveyor of life, representative of god, divinity and celestial elements. It’s the perfect conciliation between solid and airy, material and celestial; light is perceivable in its essence but unearthly and ethereal in its bright, unsubstantial appearance.

For these many reasons, light has always been one of the main elements of art. Its presence passes through more or less all the history of art.


Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up
(c) National Gallery, London

Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory)  - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis exhibited 1843 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory)
Oil on Canvas
78.5 cm × 78.5 cm
Tate Britain, London

“The Sun is God”


Turner is one of the artists that mostly known for his lightful depictions. His “Turneresque” light is like a flood that inundates his compositions; his suns (and sometimes moons) emanate a brilliant light that creates a very strong illumination. Turner makes the viewer experience the power of light through atmospheric effects, mists, fogs or water reflections. For some historians he affirmed before dying that ‘The sun is god’, and even if this statement is doubtful, it yet symbolizes the artist’s view towards light.

His conception was based on the “sublime” which can be interpreted as the contrasting sensations we feel in front of the majesty of Nature. A powerful storm, an immense landscape, or other things that hit and sometimes scare us but at the same time fascinate and intrigue. Turner imbued his compositions with this theme and in general with the power of feelings and impressions. Light plays an important role as it is the powerful energy of his depictions. Light for Turner is not simply a reflex on objects, but also an autonomous atmospheric entity that could permeate, but also shape or disintegrate the subjects of his paintings. It is an element that flows through his canvases and that evoke the flowing of feelings in ourselves.



Bacchus and Ariadne
(c) National Gallery, London


The Three Ages of Man
Oil on canvas
90 cm × 150.7 cm
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

“The sun amidst small stars”

When contemporaries had to describe Titian, quoting the last lines of the Paradise of Dante, they called him “the sun amidst small stars.” This phrase refers to his incredible talent, that managed to emerge in the crowd of artists of his time. His art was very rooted in the Venetian tradition, that preferred the use of colour and oil painting in contrast with the Florentine drawing tradition based on the line. His paintings are a stream of luminous colours and shades that mould the figures grasped in their movements and psychology. The light of Titian is shaped with chiaroscuro and bright hues that cover all the composition. Warm halos and clear colours glimpse in landscapes and human figures, rendering luminous and mysterious natures, bright and lively characters.

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Vincent van Gogh
Olive Trees with yellow sky and sun
Oil on Canvas
73.7 × 92.7 cm
Minneapolis Institute of Art

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Vincent van Gogh
The Sower (Sower at Sunset)
Oil on Canvas
64 × 80.5 cm
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

“Colour how wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun”
Vincent van Gogh


Light is, itself, a flux of particles, coming from the sun, reflecting on objects and elements of the world. It is the stream a life, a dynamic energy that was perceived and represented as such by artists like van Gogh. He was a Postimpressionist but also forerunner of Expressionism. Van Gogh indeed depicted a reality filtered by the lenses of the feelings, of the movement of emotions. Everything around van Gogh is perceived by the feelings that flow thorough it and impress the viewer. Light itself becomes a sort of living thing, that flows like lava on the canvas. The solar rays in many of van Gogh’s paintings are brushstrokes of bright and dense colours that seem to create a living, dynamic stream. It’s the stream of life that permeates everything. It’s the flux of light.

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