One of the more obscure masters of light and color was Petrus van Schendel (1806-1870). Schendel was born in Terheyden, and did his artistic apprenticeship in Antwerp from 1822 to 1828. He knocked around Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague before permanently settling in Brussels in 1845. (He is still often called “a Belgian painter.”)
Schendel was heavily influenced by 17th Century Dutch painting, eventually developing his own particular mastery of light, specifically candlelight and moonlight. His Market Scene by Moonlight was a Gold Medal winner and the painting was later bought by Queen Victoria. I can think of few painters who so wonderfully capture the unique properties of subtle illumination; it is no accident that the French dubbed him Mr. Candle.
The picture above is Schendel’s The Candlelit Market. I have not been able to find a year for this picture, but I would judge it to be painted in the early 1850s. First, look at how remarkably Schendel captures the quality of moonlight in the upper right hand section of the canvas. Moonlight has a very distinct visual quality – it cannot be mistaken for sun or artificial light. It has a cool, off-white illumination, and Schendel achieves just the right tone and color.
Now, look at the warm, golden illumination afforded by the candles. The flame tints the flesh tones with warmth and vitality, leaving the unexposed skin swathed in gray-black shadows.
Most remarkable of all, look at the central figure holding the basket. The light in front of her (to our left) is red-yellow and warm. However, look at the top of her bent back and shoulders, facing the moon, and note the outline of cold, off-white moonlight.
The moonlit buildings are complete and fully-realized without being fussy. What we have here is a window into a distant past, a vanished way of life which we can only imagine in our most romantic fancies.