Last night, I witnessed the death of tungsten

LAST NIGHT, I witnessed the death of tungsten.

We love to think of filament lamps as having great colour rendering but, looked at objectively, a light source with huge amounts of red and almost no blue can hardly be described as accurate.

Filament lamps only have a CRI of 100 because the comparison/reference source is…a filament lamp. And of course, we all know the colour rendering of a filament lamp is nothing like that of daylight.

I think history is to blame for tungsten taking so long to die. We have been brought up with the tungsten filament lamp as the de facto source indoors.

Maybe if Edison or Swan had invented a small hydrogen-fusion reactor, like sunlight indoors, the unbalanced spectrum of the filament lamp would never have caught on.

The last bastion of filament lighting has been the realm of fine art. Here, it can be argued that painters produced their work under candle light or gas lamps and so the continuous spectrum of filament lamps with their emphasis on the red end of the spectrum gives the most ‘accurate; result. Obviously, this argument doesn’t apply to work painted outdoors.

But last night, the old light source finally died when a stunning new installation was unveiled at the august Royal Academy of Arts in London. The Charles 1st collection includes work by Titian, Mantegna, Holbein, Durer, Van Dyck and Rubens; the variety of colour, scenes and subjects is enormous; and the entire installation is completely illuminated with LED spotlights from iGuzzini.

The exhibition had already been visited by Prince Charles and Prime Minister Theresa May and last night was a private view by some of the UK’s top display and exhibition lighting designers.
I’m no expert in the lighting of artworks and so I simply listened to the comments of those who are.

I have never before heard such universal praise for an exhibition. I heard phrases such as ‘watershed moment for LEDs’, ‘a tipping point’, ‘can’t argue for tungsten anymore’. No-one said that tungsten lamps would have done a better job.

Personally, I found the exhibition magical. The paintings simply glowed with the quality of light and the soft-edged beams against the dark grey walls.

Today when I got down to earth, back in the office, my first memory was of the glorious art. Then my tech side kicked in and said ‘Tungsten for display is well and truly dead’.


  • Light quality will be one of the key themes in the first Lux-organisted Lighting for Museums and Galleries conference, taking place alongside the LuxLive 2018 exhibition at ExCeL London on Wednesday 14 November and Thursday 15 November 2018. Entry is free to specifiers and gallery and museum staff. More information at