The Magic Hour is a phrase filmmakers use to describe the time as the sun sets or rises. Light diffracting further through the atmosphere appears soft and glowing and shadows become gentle and mysterious.
For the cameras of Los Angeles, California, the golden light only lasts for about thirty minutes and is particularly precious for filming. The effect is almost impossible to recreate with artificial lighting. In more northerly England the magic hour lasts longer with the intense oranges of sunset turning slowly into the blue of gloaming shown in this landscape (Herald of the Night, 1900s) from Worcester City’s collection by artist John Alfred Arnesby Brown.
Painters have always appreciated the qualities of sunlight, but it wasn’t until sketching rapidly outside became fashionable in the nineteenth century that many attempted changing sunset skies.
In 1815 Mount Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, exploded with the world’s largest eruption for over sixteen hundred years. The ash in the atmosphere caused global temperatures to drop, harvests to fail, and the most spectacular sunsets. J.M.W. Turner’s sketches of these skies changed landscape painting forever. Turner was reputed to outline a picture, to do nothing for two or three days, then suddenly exclaim ‘there it is’ and seizing his paints, work rapidly to record the magic moment.