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Paintings Newly Illuminated at the National Gallery
Diego Velázquez, The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus'), 1647-51. © National Gallery, London.

LONDON.- As it did 20 years ago with the introduction of a new balanced warm and cool tungsten illumination, the National Gallery, London, is once again proving itself a leader in the area of lighting systems for galleries. Over the next two years, LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting will be installed throughout the Gallery, which will significantly reduce its carbon emissions and improve the quality of light in the picture galleries.

The Gallery is the first institution in the world to use these lights in conjunction with a system that automatically adjusts external roof light blinds according to the amount and angle of sunlight. This ensures that only diffused light is present in the galleries through UV-filtered roof light glazing. The new LED lighting system will slowly augment the natural light as needed, as opposed to the old system that can be distracting to visitors by going on and off abruptly. This is possible because LED lights can be dimmed with no change in colour temperature, a major advantage compared to tungsten lamps.

In the last three years the National Gallery has been exploring ways to improve the quality, ease of control and efficiency of its picture lighting systems. During this period, improvements to LED lights have made them viable options both as general light sources and for specialist applications to light works of art in museums and galleries. Trials of the new lighting system have taken place in Room 62 of the Sainsbury Wing and in the Wilkins Building, where the new lighting system has been installed in Rooms 6, 7 and 8. More recently this has been extended to Rooms 5 and 10, which re-opened in April 2011.

As a result of these successful trials, the Gallery has decided to install the lights in all galleries in the main Wilkins Building and in the Sainsbury Wing. The new lighting will not only improve the public’s enjoyment of the collection, it will also reduce the Gallery’s emission of carbon dioxide by 400 tonnes each year.

This major initiative to replace all lighting in the galleries with energy-efficient, low-maintenance LED lights will reduce the Gallery’s lighting energy consumption by 85%. The ‘lamplife’ of LEDs is 25 times greater than that of the current tungsten lights, leading to a significant reduction in maintenance costs. A further benefit of the new lighting system is that it does not produce any UV light, so filters are not required and lens losses of the amount of available light are minimised.

The National Gallery will install the lights in the Sainsbury Wing in a programme from July to March 2012 and will complete the installation in the Wilkins Building by the spring of 2013. The use of the LED lights throughout the picture galleries will greatly contribute to the Gallery’s overall carbon footprint reduction target of 43% that it is aiming to achieve by 2014/15 through its Carbon Management Plan.

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