chapter  6
20 Pages

‘Seeing with vision that feels, feeling with fingers that see’

The previous chapter considered the aesthetic and economic status of daylight in the context of the nineteenth-century public art gallery, a new institution that shaped the nation’s cultural and imaginative identity. Discussion focused on why top-lighting, with its Enlightenment associations of rationality and civic virtue, was the preferred method for illuminating paintings in prestigious sites such as London’s National Gallery. Here, in this uniformly lit environment, belief in art’s educational and moral value was informed by wider nineteenth-century imperatives of social reform. By increasing public access, the contemplation of art was no longer a cerebral affair reserved for connoisseurs. Ideals of a self-regulating viewing subject were undermined by the unpredictable and distinctly corporeal presence of the crowd. Moreover, seen in the wider context of industrial, economic and legislative directives that affected atmospheric conditions, these practices of illumination revealed that daylight, an ostensibly natural resource, had become a commodity of urban life.