James Hall (University of Southampton): 'Creatures of the Night: Nocturnal Art Making from Bandinelli to Picasso'

This lecture marked the publication of The Artist’s Studio: a Cultural History (Thames and Hudson)

Drawing at night by artificial light became a crucial component of artistic practice during the Renaissance, massively increasing the mystique of the artist’s studio. It brought artists into line with scholars and the elite who had begun to eat supper and go to bed much later (the dialogues in Castiglione’s The Courtier take place at night). The flame from candles and oil lamps was Promethean fire, propelling artists to new creative heights and depths. Drawing could be undertaken at night because it is monochrome, making colour distortion by artificial light irrelevant. ‘At night all cats be grey’, went the proverb. Nocturnal painting came of age in the late nineteenth century, precisely because it facilitated anti-naturalism and abstraction. Kandinsky ‘discovered' abstract art when he mis-recognised one of his paintings in the studio at twilight. Picasso almost always painted at night.

James Hall is an art historian and critic, currently Research Professor in Art History and Theory at the University of Southampton. Known for his versatility, he has written many essays on art history and contemporary art, and the following books: The World as Sculpture: the changing status of sculpture from the Renaissance to the present day (1999); Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body (2005); The Sinister Side: How Left-Right Symbolism Shaped Western Art (2008). The Self-Portrait: a Cultural History (Thames & Hudson 2014) won the Travelling Scholarship Prize and has been translated into five languages. Major essays on Michelangelo have recently been published in the Burlington Magazine and Simiolus, and in his new book, The Artist’s Studio: a Cultural History (Thames & Hudson 2022), he claims to have discovered a depiction of Michelangelo at work. He is a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement.

This event took place on 31 January 2023.