Carl Bretzke, "Florida Sky," 24 x 36 inches, Oil on Linen, 2023
Carl Bretzke, "Florida Sky," 24 x 36 inches, Oil on Linen, 2023

Nocturne Paintings On View: Bretzke & Butko, Night & Day

Night & Day: Carl Bretzke | Viktor Butko is a two-man exhibition of masterful plein air and studio paintings from both near and far. Artists who paint from direct observation understand that scenes change depending on the time of day, and their commitment to their craft demands a level of endurance. Time is limited to capture a shadow, or perhaps the scene is more interesting now that that shadow has moved. Night & Day is an ode to the many colors of light, and how these colors change throughout the 24-hour cycle.

If You Go:
Night & Day: Carl Bretzke | Viktor Butko
On view through November 12, 2023
Grenning Gallery, Sag Harbor, New York

From the gallery:

Carl Bretzke (b. 1954 – Minneapolis, MN) returns for his 9th consecutive year exhibiting as a Grenning Gallery artist. Born, and currently based in Minnesota, Bretzke is an emotionally accurate and observant chronicler of urban and rural plein-air scenes. He is most comfortable painting the Midwest scenes he intimately knows, and his eye for American life is recognizable to any viewer.

Having been a surgeon for 30 years before becoming a full-time painter, Bretzke reflects: “In medicine, you see what you know. In painting, you paint what you see. You must know it, to see it, to paint it.” His work explores the prismatic palette, and he is constantly concerned with the effect of light (perhaps an upshot of his scientific background.) Bretzke’s paintings perform tricks for the eye as he explores the subtle shifts of the different colors of light within the composition.

Editor’s Note: Carl Bretzke is on the faculty of the 11th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo in The Great Smoky Mountains, May 20-24, 2024. Click here to join us and learn from Carl and many more expert plein air painters!

nocturne paintings - Carl Bretzke, "Division Street at Night," 24 x 36 inches, Oil on Linen, 2023
Carl Bretzke, “Division Street at Night,” 24 x 36 inches, Oil on Linen, 2023

He is particularly adept at scenes that ooze in darkness, reminiscent of Edward Hopper. Bretzke remarks: “What most people don’t notice is, as the light drops off, the color of light changes. You must see where the color changes and where the light is coming from.” In “Division Street at Night” Bretzke illustrates several light sources. The brightest being a pair of oncoming headlights – two glaring white orbs that cast luminous beams up to the dark sky and reflect against the road. This stream of white light allows the viewer to see the rich blue within the blackened night sky. Streetlamps adorn the perimeter of the road which radiate spheres in a burnt yellow-orange hue. An ornamented flowerpot adorns a triangular isle of grass, backlit by another pair of headlights, and a bright storefront window.

Carl Bretzke, "Waiting for the Check," 18 x 24 inches, Oil on Linen, 2023
Carl Bretzke, “Waiting for the Check,” 18 x 24 inches, Oil on Linen, 2023

Bretzke’s work also exudes a cinematic quality that evokes a more positive and connected iteration of Edward Hopper’s deep dive into the American experience. In “Waiting for the Check” Bretzke places us at the historic Sag Harbor fixture, The American Hotel. A thriving establishment since 1846, this local institution holds a place in every heart that has visited our small village. One may feel complete contentment, having a late dinner on the porch, with heat lamps radiating warmth through the colder months, observing any and all Main Street movements from their treasured seats. A waiter stands in the doorway, eager to assist with any needs, gazing directly at the viewer – a reassurance that he is prepared to serve.

Bretzke moreover delivers a series of seascapes, with colorful clouded skies, and urban scenes with recognizable contemporary automobiles parked along nostalgic neighborhood streets. His winter landscapes sing with the silence of snowflakes; the only sound being footfalls atop fresh powder.

nocturne paintings - Carl Bretzke, "Unshoveled Sidewalks," 16 x 20 inches, Oil on Linen, 2023
Carl Bretzke, “Unshoveled Sidewalks,” 16 x 20 inches, Oil on Linen, 2023


Viktor Butko, (b.1978, Moscow) was our great find when we invited eight Russian painters to Sag Harbor in 2016 to paint with the Grenning-Gallery-formed Russian American Painting Alliance. Not only were Butko’s eyes fresh to our landscape; his attention to light and shadow was searingly satisfying. Butko’s use of soft pastel colors unifying in the sky juxtaposed with thick, heavy outlines of the backlit trees are all at once transfixing and yet, comforting. Since his first visit, Butko has planted himself on Shelter Island for six months out of every year, painting the local landscape, making friends with locals, and even being invited onto a few properties to capture and preserve their prevailing brilliance.

Viktor Butko, "Village View," 18 x 24 inches, Oil on Canvas, 2016
Viktor Butko, “Village View,” 18 x 24 inches, Oil on Canvas, 2016

While Bretzke is fascinated by man-made light sources combatting the darkness of night, Butko paints the natural, sprawling light of early, mid, and late day. Together, both artists remind us of how light shapes our world in the course of 24 hours. Learn more about the show at

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  1. Dear Carl Bretzke, your nocturnes are awesome.
    Can you publish a photo of yourself and your Plein air set up for a nocturne? Would be very interesting to see how and where your lights are positioned.
    Thank you.
    Kathy Lentz
    Pensacola, Fl


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