“The list of painters who employed moonlight in their canvasses is extensive,” says Adrian Pett of Darnley Fine Art in London where a new exhibition dedicated to night-time compositions runs until June 5 at the gallery’s space in Cecil Court near Trafalgar Square.
“Artists across the centuries have embraced the challenge of creating twilight and night-time paintings, not an easy undertaking as considerable technical skill is needed in controlling tone,” he adds.
The idea for the exhibition, which features 19 paintings spanning four centuries, grew out of Pett’s fascination with the Pether family of painters. They excelled at moonlit scenes and inspired nocturnal specialists like the Victorian painter John Atkinson Grimshaw.
“I came across Henry Pether and his family many years ago and fell in love with their work,” he says. “I started buying Henry Pethers whenever I could get my hands on them. His works are creeping up in value, but I think he is still really good value for money.”
The show includes two paintings by the Pether family: A view of the Grand Canal in Venice by Henry Pether (1800-80) and a newly discovered painting, Evening Fishing, by his father Abraham ‘Moonlight’ Pether (1756-1812).
Unlike his father, Henry favoured subjects of actual places, often sited on the Thames or in Venice. According to Pett, the 2ft x 3ft (61 x 91.5cm) oil on canvas offered conveys “the poetry and realism of his best work” and is priced accordingly at £60,000 – the most expensive painting for sale.
Abraham Pether was inspired by the work of the 18th century Dutch masters, emulating their skill in illustrating the illuminated effect of light reflection on water by applying multiple layers of translucent and opaque paint. In Evening Fishing, the luminous clouds part slightly to reveal the moon over a tranquil river, the light helping the fishermen find safe passage to the riverbank.
William Boot (1848-1918) was another Victorian painter influenced by the Pether family and the exhibition includes one of the artist’s favourite views of Kirkstall Abbey in Yorkshire. The atmospheric, Gothic-inspired 2ft x 3ft (61 x 91cm) oil on canvas shows three figures lit by moonlight amid the ruins of the Cistercian monastery and is priced at £12,000.
The show also pulls together other pictures on the theme of moonlight.
There is a newly discovered 20in x 2ft 4in (51 x 71cm) work of Psyche and Cupid by William Blake Richmond (1848-1921). The Pre- Raphaelite-inspired oil, probably a sketch for a finished painting, depicts Psyche unconscious after opening the box she obtained in the Underworld for Aphrodite. Cupid kneels beside her looking out towards a crescent moon.
Closing out the exhibition are three newly commissioned works by Jeremy Andrews (b.1974), which the gallery represents.
Proof, says Pett, of the continuing appeal of nocturne subjects on today’s artists. n