We in the SSL world tend to think that the advantages of using LED lighting in a museum are obvious. For a veteran lighting designer this was not the case.
Earlier this month we mentioned the renovation, including an LED lighting upgrade, at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
We didn't have details of the lighting used or of the process that was carried out to arrive at the eventual solution. The museum staff was in touch by email but didn't shed any light (as it were) on these sorts of details.
The lighting consultant and designer on the Mauritshuis project, Hans Wolff of Hans Wolff & Partners b.v. in Amsterdam, emailed me to clear up one misimpression and to add some insight into how the lighting ended up as it did. Here is his note.
Dear Mr. Dawson,
Recently I read your article about the museum lighting in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, The Netherlands.
I was the lighting designer/consultant for that project.
Just a few remarks.
The Mauritshuis might be a rather small museum, but it houses one of the world's most important collections of 16th-17th century Flemish and Dutch masters. Not only by Vermeer, but also by Rembrandt, Hals, Breughel, Rubens, van Dijck, and many, many more.
During the renovation of the museum a part of this collection was on a world tour. And it worked out this was the best visited exposition in the world ever.
It was however far from obvious for us to light this collection with LED lighting as you presume.
The whole selection process of the museum lighting was carried out in close collaboration with the directors, curators, and restorers of the museum.
And all of us were, due to what we saw in other musea (e.g. "big brother" het Rijksmusem), extremely worried using LED lighting in the museum.
In our experience, contrary to most manufacturers' claims, the majority of the LEDs on the market are not good enough for museum lighting.
The reason to search for the potential use of LED in the Mauritshuis was a very practical one. The museum is housed in a 17th century "town-palace" where we could hardly find space for air-conditioning ducts, etc. Due to the strongly rising number of visitors we needed to bring down the heat load.
Striving for the best light quality for this outstanding collection, we decided to design an installation based on low-voltage halogen lighting and meanwhile search for the "Holy Grail" in LED lighting; a minimal LED light-source as good as low-voltage halogen.
Just four months before the reopening of the museum, and after an enormous amount of research, tests and radio-spectrum measurements, we had enough arguments and confidence to decide to go for LED lighting.
We all are very happy with the results, but what is more important the visitors of the museum think all the paintings have been thoroughly cleaned as even the most subtle hues are visible now.
— Keith Dawson , Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting