The Lighter Side of 18th-Century French Interiors

frick.jpgNewly renovated galleries at The Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art show off 18th-century French artworks and objects in a whole new light–literally. The Frick has just reopened its Fragonard Room (at right), after its first major relighting and refurbishment in 60 years. Lighting designer Richard Renfro set out to give the impression that the room’s wall-sized Fragonard paintings were lit only by natural light and the room’s chandelier while bringing the furniture, porcelain, and sculpture into balance with the paintings. It was a job for low-voltage halogen reflector lamps (softly illuminating the paintings) and fiber-optic fixtures (to subtly accent the three-dimensional objects). Meanwhile, elaborate controls automatically adjust everything to compensate for shifting natural light.

Over at the Met, opera designer Patrick Kinmonth and lighting designer Larry French (of Auerbach Glasow) worked with the museum’s administration and curatorial staff on the refurbishment of six French period rooms at the Wrightsman Galleries for French Decorative Arts. Whether using minimal lighting to show off Rococo glitz or a subtle spotlight that makes a star of a desk owned by Louis XV, the changes are illuminating. In his recent New York Times review of the galleries, Ken Johnson was impressed with the ability of the enhancements to give the impression of “a suspended moment in time” and to “vivify the settings, but…in such understated, tasteful ways that few viewers will be consciously aware of them.”