Turning of the Light: Cornwall's Golden Hour is a Constant Inspiration for Artists

Light and art are more than inseparable: they form a continuum. Quite simply, it is light that is captured on canvass or paper, in paint or through the lens of a camera and the quality of light in Autumn, particularly here in Cornwall, is unique to that season. It has inspired artists for centuries.


In the Northern hemisphere, Autumn begins at the moment when the sun crosses the ‘celestial equator’ (an imaginary line in the sky corresponding to the earthly equator), sometime between the 22nd and 24th of September. From then until the winter solstice in December, the days will grow shorter, the nights longer. The air becomes crisper and, while the season is changing towards winter, the colours are richer and deeper. And the light itself becomes a muted gold rather than a white burst of brilliance overhead, allowing for a more sophisticated palette than we have enjoyed in previous months.


The scientific explanation for this shift in the colour spectrum is that, after the earth tilts at the Autumn equinox, the sun’s rays take longer to reach us. They are now long, slanting beams that soften what they illuminate rather than sharpening hardening the edges, as they do in summer. Through this, we are able to glimpse just what it is about Autumnal light that has aided in producing such exceptional artwork across time.


Unlike many areas of the world, the quality of light in Cornwall is truly unique at all times of year (read more about that here) and it, too, has inspired artists since the painter of light, J M W Turner, captured its beauty in oils and water colours for his 1811 travel guide, Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England. It is thanks to that guide that artists flocked to places like Newlyn, St Ives and Penzance and have continued to do so in such numbers that Cornwall today has the largest community of working artists outside London.


Light in autumn is different. Light in Cornwall is different. And together, the light in a Cornish Autumn is something altogether wonderful! A gentle fire, bathing the woods and hills, echoed in the autumnal foliage and reflected and intensified, here, by rivers and sea.


There is a certain light much beloved by artists, painters and photographers and filmmakers. At the ‘golden hour’ on clear, early mornings and twilights this lovely, slanting light can be seen and captured all year round, but it is undoubtedly at its best and most magical in the season of autumn. And it is, also undoubtedly, at its most magical of all in Cornwall. Any resident artist would tell you that but, now, there is even scientific evidence to back up that claim!


Sensor tests conducted for a 2008 episode of the BBC’s ‘Coast’ showed that the quality of the air, which is particularly clear and clean, combined with the ‘light scattering’ effect of Cornwall’s surrounding seas, uniquely alter and intensify the ‘colours of illumination’ in this part of the world.

Interesting as this may be, it doesn’t really convey the feeling you get from the particular intensity of an ever-changing light. One which transforms the landscape from day to day and even from moment to moment, or the quest of so many artists to capture its transient beauty, whether on canvass or paper or camera.


The only way to fully appreciate what autumn light in Cornwall has to give is to see it for yourself! We hope you’ll treat yourself to a visit soon.