The Color of Light, The Treasury of Shadows


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The Color of Light, The Treasury of Shadows: Pastels by Louis I. Kahn
From the Collections of His Children

In pastels that have been acknowledged as the most sublime examples of his drawing, Louis I. Kahn portrayed the vivid colors of light and shadow illuminating the public spaces of Italy and the ancient sites of Greece and Egypt. These pastels were made during a three-month period in 1950–51 when Kahn was Architect in Residence at the American Academy in Rome. While architects throughout history have recorded these monuments, Kahn’s drawings are no mere portraits of architecture. They can be experienced purely as the deepest rendering of light and the complementary colors of its shadows.

Trained from early years to be an artist, Kahn was intrigued all his life by the color of daylight and its complementary hues. In speaking of his inspirations for the pastels, he excitedly recalled, “the magenta sunset gave you an inky green—it wasn’t just an ordinary green. The green was so green that I had to feel that [it] wasn’t paint; and on the shadow of my hands was also green, that’s how green it was. And that cast a shadow on the stones, which were a golden color, and this green cast itself a purple shadow, because it had so much light in the green. So within iridescent stone there was a shadow caused by the green shadow on the stone itself, and that really set me off because I thought I could independently paint all of these things” (conversation with Jan Hochstim, 1972).

As much as concrete, brick, or travertine, Kahn used the changing light of the day and the seasons as a central building block of architecture. It is particularly fitting that these pastels are exhibited here in the Kimbell, of which Kahn said, “depending on the character of the light . . . the museum has as many moods as there are moments in time. Never, as long as the museum remains as a building, will there be a single day like the other”(The Kimbell: Year One, 1974).

Special thanks to the children of Louis I. Kahn, Sue Ann Kahn, Alexandra Tyng, and Nathaniel Kahn, for generously lending their works for this exhibition.