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How to capture the marvellousness of moonlight? As the photos floating around Twitter testify, it is difficult to do so on a smartphone: it comes out as a pitiful streak, a smear, a sad shadow of its original self.

Thankfully many artists throughout the ages have captured the moon through some wonderful lunar art. Now seems a timely moment to shine a light on lunar art, as this year sees no less than three supermoons – the term 'supermoon' refers to 'perigee', the moon's closest point to Earth in its elliptic orbit; indeed, supermoons are also known as 'perigean' full moons.

Moon Reflected in a Turtle Pool, Seychelles

Moon Reflected in a Turtle Pool, Seychelles c.1883

Marianne North (1830–1890)

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The next full moon on 19th February 2019 will be the most super of all – the moon will be 356,846 kilometres from Earth, which is pretty much as close as it gets. What I love about lunar events such as supermoons is the way they seem to unite people the world over, who step into the night and gaze heavenwards in an attempt to glimpse this marvel.

The South Bay at Night with Full Moon

The South Bay at Night with Full Moon

Walter Linsley Meegan (1859–1944)

Scarborough Museums and Galleries

In lunar art, the moon is depicted in places all over the world, in remote mountains, islands, forests, villages, towns, cities. Some highlights include the nineteenth-century paintings Moon Reflected in a Turtle Pool, Seychelles by Marianne North (above), in which purple hues fill the sky and a moon peeps through a palm tree laden with coconuts, and The South Bay at Night With Full Moon by Walter Linsley Meegan, filled with an eerie green light.

Venice, Moonlight

Venice, Moonlight 1925

Christopher Williams (1873–1934)

Bridgend County Borough Council

Venice, Moonlight by Christopher Williams brilliantly captures, in burgundy light, the silhouettes of the city's buildings and boats.

Street Scene, Wolverhampton

Street Scene, Wolverhampton 1958

Frank Ward (active 1954)

Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

Closer to these shores is Street Scene, Wolverhampton, in which the moon hangs over a deserted night street, and Winter Moonrise, Yorkshire.

Winter Moonrise, Yorkshire

Winter Moonrise, Yorkshire 1945

Algernon Cecil Newton (1880–1968)

Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

In many paintings, the moon is seen set in an anonymous landscape, whilst others zoom in closely so the moon fills the painting.

Landscape, Moonlight

Landscape, Moonlight early 19th C

Simon Mathurin Lantara (1729–1778) (style of)

The Bowes Museum

For example, the eighteenth-century painting Landscape, Moonlight shows the moon in a wide context of bridge, sea, sky.

River with Moonlight Effect

River with Moonlight Effect 1859

Karl Adloff (1819–1863)

Paintings Collection

River Landscape by Moonlight

River Landscape by Moonlight 1887

George Henry (1858–1943)

The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

And the beautiful nineteenth-century River With Moonlight Effect by Karl Adloff and River Landscape by Moonlight by George Henry also see the moon in a landscape: the quality of light the artists managed to depict attests to the true power of painting.

Mountain and Moon

Mountain and Moon

George Nicholas (b.1955)

Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Moonlight in the Forest

Moonlight in the Forest c.1860–1872

Joséphine Bowes (1825–1874)

The Bowes Museum

Then there is the simple yet potent Mountain and Moon, in an unnamed place, and the nineteenth-century Moonlight in the Forest by Joséphine Bowes in an unnamed forest.

Silver Moon

Silver Moon 2002

Sarah Wright (b.1966)

The Open University

Moon and Clouds

Moon and Clouds

Bet Low (1924–2007)

North Lanarkshire Council / CultureNL

Meanwhile, Silver Moon shows the moon taking up most of the canvas, as it does in Moon and Clouds by Bet Low.

Landscape, with Crescent Moon, Church and Graveyard

Landscape, with Crescent Moon, Church and Graveyard 1878

W. H. C.

Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library

The moon is shown in all of its phases, from gloriously full to a no-less-compelling crescent. A crescent moon hangs in the sky in Landscape, with Crescent Moon, Church and Graveyard and a yellow crescent is also in the more abstract painting Black Night by Robert Leishman.

Black Night

Black Night 1979

Robert Leishman (1916–1989)

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

A Siren in Full Moonlight

A Siren in Full Moonlight 1940

Paul Delvaux (1897–1994)

Southampton City Art Gallery

A Siren in Full Moonlight reminds us of all the extra layers of meaning attached to the full moon, and a full moon is also seen in Moonlight and Lamplight which juxtaposes natural and artificial light.

Moonlight and Lamplight

Moonlight and Lamplight 1937

Winifred Nicholson (1893–1981)


The Uncertainty of the Waning Moon

The Uncertainty of the Waning Moon 1988

Aguri Kitamura

Royal College of Art

One of my favourite sayings about the moon is from Anton Chekhov: 'Don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass', and indeed artists have experimented with showing not only the full shine of the moon but in more subtle glints and hints – indeed its elusiveness is spookily shown in The Uncertainty of the Waning Moon by Aguri Kitamura.

There are many paintings powerfully depicting moonlight on the sea, perhaps little wonder given that the moon's gravitational pull on Earth is the main cause of the rise and fall of ocean tides.


Moonlight c.1880

Joachim Hierschl-Minerbi (1834–1905) (attributed to)

Reading Museum

Moonlight, attributed to the nineteenth-century artist Joachim Hierschl-Minerbi, captures just how immensely eerie moonlight can be, here as it reflects on the sea.

Moonlit Landscape

Moonlit Landscape c.1850–c.1902

John Moore of Ipswich (1821–1902)

Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service: Ipswich Borough Council Collection

Rising Moon, St Ives Bay, Cornwall

Rising Moon, St Ives Bay, Cornwall exhibited 1905

Albert Julius Olsson (1864–1942)

Gallery Oldham

The moon's reflection upon water is also captured in Moonlit Landscape by John Moore of Ipswich, and its journey through the skies in the turquoise-hued Rising Moon, St Ives Bay, Cornwall by Albert Julius Olsson.

A New Moon and a Vortex (The Wave)

A New Moon and a Vortex (The Wave)

Wendy Spooner

University of Surrey

Moon and Sea

Moon and Sea 1942

Kenneth Lawson (1920–2008)

Gallery Oldham

A New Moon and a Vortex (The Wave) by Wendy Spooner also strikingly shows this relationship, albeit in a very different, abstract style, and an abstract style is favoured too by Kenneth Lawson in Moon and Sea.

Moon Rising

Moon Rising 1989

Denis A. Bowen (1921–2006)

Kirklees Museums and Galleries

A particularly powerful abstract is also Moon Rising by Denis A. Bowen.

If the moon has a powerful pull on the sea, it has a no less potent effect on us human beings, on our imaginations, minds and emotions.

Crying for the Moon

Crying for the Moon

Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook (1907–1978)

Sir Francis Cook Collection

The moon has been a dominant symbol in mythology throughout the ages, taking on all manner of meanings. For a twentieth-century depiction of the emotional pull of the moon see Crying for the Moon by Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook, which shows a woman with arms outstretched, face held upwards towards the moon.

Moon Dance

Moon Dance c.1990

Louise Ritchie (b.1967)

University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Moon Dance by Louise Ritchie also captures the mythology of the moon (and brings to mind the eponymous Van Morrison song).

Once in a Blue Moon

Once in a Blue Moon 2000

Vanda Harvey (b.1957)

Coventry University

The moon has seeped into our language and expressions and a creative take on this is Once in a Blue Moon by Vanda Harvey, and the painting Over the Moon.

Over the Moon

Over the Moon

Anna Todd (b.1964)

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board

Baron Munchausen Arrives on the Moon

Baron Munchausen Arrives on the Moon 1948

Ray Harryhausen (1920–2013)

The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Mankind's yearning to land on the moon is seen in the cartoonish Baron Munchausen on the Moon and Baron Munchausen Arrives on the Moon by Ray Harryhausen.

Baron Munchausen on the Moon

Baron Munchausen on the Moon 1948

Ray Harryhausen (1920–2013)

The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

The Rising Moon and Day's Departure

The Rising Moon and Day's Departure

Richard Harry Carter (1839–1911)

Royal Institution of Cornwall

I always find the moon when visible in daylight so haunting and this is well shown by Richard Harry Carter in The Rising Moon and Day's Departure and this painting of Morning attributed to Henry Pether.

Morning, with a View of Kirkstall Abbey

Morning, with a View of Kirkstall Abbey c.1850

Henry Pether (1800–1880) (attributed to)

Abbey House and Leeds City Museum

Meanwhile, Night by James Arthur O'Connor shows just how much light there is to be found in darkness.


Night c.1828–1840

James Arthur O'Connor (1792–1841)

Paintings Collection

The Moon Goes round the Earth

The Moon Goes round the Earth

Keith Henderson (1883–1982)

Perth & Kinross Council

The painting The Moon Goes round the Earth by Keith Henderson shows school children being taught about the movements of the moon and brings to mind memories of first learning about the moon and wondering at it, dreaming about one day walking upon it, or trying to discern the wistful face of the man in the moon.

Delving into artworks in the archive is a reminder that it is never too late to keep learning about all things lunar and appreciating anew the magnificence of the moon.

Anita Sethi, journalist, writer and critic