Self Portrait by Candlelight (1695).
One additional pleasure of Le Fanu’s story and Leslie Megahey’s film is the way they draw attention to the work of an artist who might otherwise have remained overshadowed by his more famous contemporaries. Ever since seeing the meticulous chiaroscuro of Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump (1768) I’ve been fascinated by paintings which feature a single artificial light source. Candlelit pictures are a particular fascination since these aren’t easy to paint even today when you can photograph the required scene beforehand. How much more difficult would it be painting a candlelit scene by candlelight alone? Works of this nature demonstrate an artist’s fascination with limited sources of light but also serve as displays of expertise, as did so much Dutch painting of Schalcken’s time with its emphasis on photo-realist representation.
Self Portrait (no date).
This small selection of paintings by Godfried Schalcken (1643–1706) shows some of the pictures that appear in Megahey’s film, or which we see being posed or replicated. At the end I’ve included Schalcken’s own take on the Salomé story which means his work can now be ushered into the Salomé archive. More of Schalcken’s work may be seen at Wikimedia Commons and the BBC’s Your Paintings site. One significant picture is unavailable: the painting which Le Fanu describes at the opening of his story. In his interview about the making of the film Megahey says that they searched the entire catalogue of Schalcken paintings but were unable to find a single picture that matches the one described in Le Fanu’s story. The painting seen in the film (which is perfectly rendered in Schalcken’s style) was created especially for the production.
A Candlelight Scene: A Man offering a Gold Chain and Coins to a Girl seated on a Bed (c. 1665–70).