Wait Until Dark explores the nocturne in art, demonstrating how it has become a subgenre within the broader category of landscape painting, how it is used to set a narrative mood, and how it has illustrated significant cultural and community events, particularly in New Mexico.
Most generally, a nocturne can be understood as simply a night scene. The term was originally used to describe a musical composition evocative of night and was first applied to painting by American painter James Whistler in the early 1870s, ‘Nocturne’ refers essentially to the quality of light in a painting, and can be veiled light, twilight, waxing or waning light, indirect light, and of course, darkness. These works of art emphasize the look and formal quality of nighttime scenes. The word nocturne speaks as much to the quality of light as it does to the mood of a painting, which can be dreamy, ethereal, poetic, menacing, meditative, or brooding.
In these artworks the night is a subject in and of itself, establishing the mood and feel of a piece. Artists have used the unique quality of light between dusk and dawn to suggest peaceful tranquility, the coming unknown or the uncanny feel of the world after dark.
The world comes alive after dark, and these works of art express the variety of night life artists have represented in their work. Almost every culture engages in nighttime events both sacred and secular. These paintings and prints illustrate the way nighttime sets the stage for events both real and imagined.
Darkness is as much a primary character in nighttime narratives as any of the figures in the works on view. In depicting events, the incorporation of night is central to establishment of the mood of the composition. Many significant events and ceremonies across cultures happen after dark, and often this enhances the drama of the event. In Will Shuster’s Sermon at Cross of the Martyrs the dark of night accentuates dramatic light and shadows. The cover of darkness emphasizes the secrecy and horror seen in Luis Ribak’s Ku Klux Klan Rally. Conversely the nocturne can capitalize on the enhanced abandon we feel after dark, for instance Gerald Cassidy’s Sketch for Spanish Dance Scene illustrating how we like to let loose after dark.