The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

Master Impressions from the UAMA Collections: Night

Samuel Palmer The Lonely Tower, 1879

September 24, 2008 – February 1, 2009

The depiction of night presents the artist with a set of distinctive representational challenges, particularly how to convey a recognizable scene cloaked in the obscurity of darkness. Night scenes require experimentation with minimal sources of illumination, demonstrated most dramatically in Caravaggio’s influential chiaroscuro paintings. In order to achieve subtle gradations of light and dark, printmakers have explored various techniques, including the heavy inking of plates, the creative use of etched or engraved lines, and experimentation with printing processes such as aquatint and mezzotint.

Night scenes have their origins in the representation of well-known Biblical and mythological stories, as in Hendrik Goudt’s The Flight into Egypt, John Martin’s The Creation of Light, and Willem Akersloot’s Ceres Changing Stellio into a Lizard. Vernacular nightscapes, exemplified here by Jan van de Velde the Younger’s Nox (Night), emerged from Dutch artists in the 17th century. Traditionally, night has been regarded as a time of fear, and darkness itself has been associated with evil, crime, witchcraft, and terror. But artists have also long evoked night as a time of mysterious wonder and beauty, and of imaginative, dream-like visions, as is the case in Samuel Palmer’s The Lonely Tower. Within night images, the moon has functioned as an object that arouses poetic praise, amorous yearning, or serene meditation; its effects on human behavior have been portrayed humorously, as in Emmanuel de Ghendt’s La Nuit (Night).

Perhaps due to its inherently enigmatic, shadowy qualities, nighttime has inspired special fascination and contemplation. Samuel Palmer wrote admiringly of William Blake’s portrayal of night in his woodcut illustrations for an edition of Robert Thornton’s The Pastorals of Virgil: “There is in all such a mystic and dreamy glimmer as penetrates and kindles the inmost soul, and gives complete and unreserved delight, unlike the gaudy daylight of this world.”

– Susannah Maurer, Assistant Curator

Master Impressions from the UAMA Collections

This series of small, rotating presentations showcases the exceptional breadth and depth of the UAMA Old Master print collection. These selections offer focused consideration of a particularly significant artist or theme, and elucidate some of the most influential developments in the Western printmaking tradition.

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Master Impressions from the UAMA Collections