Spectacular skies: dawns and dusks in our collections
The extravagant spectacle of a dazzling sunrise or a magnificent sunset is one of nature’s most dramatic displays, with the sun’s rays transforming the sky in a kaleidoscope of colours. Many artists have tried to capture these fleeting moments, inspired by the warmth and depth of the colours.
Here, we share a selection of the most notable works of art from our collections that portray some aspect of the beauty, magnificence and tranquillity of dawn and dusk.
Painting in the elements
Some painters felt that the best way to capture the colours and atmosphere of the sky was to work outdoors, as John Chu, National Trust Assistant Curator of Pictures and Sculpture, explains:
‘When an artist paints out in the landscape instead of inside the studio, it is known as working “en plein air”, which is French for "in the open air".
'Although this might present obstacles (think of the wind, rain and insects), the results can more than make up for it.
'Working in front of the view allows you to respond directly to nature’s fleeting effects of light, colour and atmosphere.
'Sometimes, if a painter works with enough skill and speed, a sense of how they felt in that moment, as well as what they could see, is captured forever.’
John Constable (1776–1837) regularly painted outside. This oil sketch of Harnham Ridge, near Salisbury, in the collection at Upton House, Warwickshire, was painted en plein air.
" Working in front of the view allows you to respond directly to nature’s fleeting effects of light, colour and atmosphere."
Vernet’s ‘The Four Times of Day’
Upton House houses a set of four pictures by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714–1789) depicting different times of day. 'Morning' shows an imaginary Mediterranean seaport, with the mist dispersing and fishermen hauling in their catches.
‘Midday’ is a scene of chaos unleashed by a quick and treacherous storm. Set against a dark and ominous sky, a ship lists heavily and is most certainly about to founder. On shore, frantic efforts to rescue lives and goods are underway.
The golden tones of this painting meant that it was once wrongly considered to depict morning. This harbour scene shows boats being unloaded under the watchful gaze of spectators.
The seashore is still a hive of activity in Vernet’s depiction of night, with fishermen getting their nets ready by the silvery light of the moon.
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