In the first of these two articles looking at the lighting of our streets and cities, I showed paintings made during the introduction of gas lighting. At the end of the nineteenth century, electric lighting became more common, and those long dark nights were transformed.
The city of Paris gained its first electric lights in 1878, as part of the Exposition Universelle that year. By the time Pierre-Georges Jeanniot painted his atmospheric Night on the Seine in 1892, those brighter lights had spread along the banks of the river and onto its many bridges.
In Stockholm, Sweden, Eugène Jansson specialised in nocturnes dependent on the effects of improving lighting of its streets.
One of Jansson’s finest nocturnes is this seemingly infinite view from his studio on Mariaberget over Riddarfjärden, Stockholm, painted in 1898. As the last (or first) light of the day fades to pale red above the horizon, the waterfront of the old city is lit in white. In the foreground, the lights of the quay below form into small whirlpools.
Another of Jansson’s fine nocturnes is his Dawn Over Riddarfjärden from 1899. A slightly different angle of view, and possibly location, brings the spires, dark buildings and street lights closer. His soft squiggles of darker colour in the water become better defined in the sky, where they swirl calligraphically along the horizon.
Jansson took to the streets again in his Hornsgatan by Night from 1902. This is a major commercial street in the city, undulating its way up to the horizon, shown here only by its lights and his curving brushstrokes and scratches.
Although Henri Le Sidaner preferred twilight rather than true nocturnes, his Gaslight, Blue Night (original French title Le Bec de Gaz – Nuit bleue) from 1906 is an exception. It appears to have been painted in Venice, which was lagging in its introduction of electric lighting.
In about 1920, Lesser Ury’s Street Scene at Night, Berlin, thought to show Leipziger Straße again, makes the contrast between the white incandescent electric lights of the street and the pale gold of a motor vehicle.
Ury’s Nollendorfplatz Station at Night from 1925 shows the brilliant electric lighting around this busy railway station to the south of the Tiergarten, in another of Berlin’s shopping districts.
By the twenty-first century, the great cities of the world, like Tokyo, are now lit twenty-four hours every day, irrespective of season. Nocturnes have changed beyond all recognition and are more the preserve of the photographer.