In the history of art, the term "luminism" refers to a style of realist landscape painting, characterized by its treatment of light, which was developed during the third quarter of the 19th century by American artists directly influenced by the Hudson River School. The actual term was first used in 1954 by John Baur, director of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, and encompassed some of the best landscape artists in America.
Exponents of Luminism included frontier painters like Missouri man George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), as well as wilderness or coastal landscape artists - from the Hudson River School and other groups/locations from around America - including Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865) (Nathaniel Rogers Lane), Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), as well as John F. Kensett (1816-72), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-80), Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), William Trost Richards (1833-1905), Norton Bush (1834-94), Edmund Darch Lewis (1835-1910), Alfred T. Bricher (1837-1908), Thomas Moran (1837-1926), George Tirrell, Henry Walton, and JW Hill.
OF VISUAL ART
Luminist pictures are nearly always landscapes or waterscapes (seascapes, riverscapes), and are typically characterized by cold, clear colours, and realistically detailed objects modelled by light. Luminist paintings - usually elongated rectangles - also tend to contain large areas of sky, water and land, and are often organized geometrically so that, for instance, specific objects may be carefully aligned with the edges of the canvas. Like French Impressionism, luminism is all about the depiction of light, but its treatment is very different. While an Impressionist landscape may be said to surround and engulf the viewer with its depiction of sunlight, a luminist landscape typically contains a much deeper perspective, along with objects captured in detail in crystal clear light - like a frozen moment when time stops. The effect of this is very often a sense of great tranquility and calm, which is further enhanced by the luminist technique of concealing all visible brushwork beneath a smooth, slick finish. As it was, luminism (an American painting style) came before Impressionism (a French style), and both movements evolved quite independently of each other.
Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (1845) Metropolitan Museum of Art New York. By George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879).
Off Mount Desert Island (1856)
Brooklyn Museum of Art New York
Sunrise among the Rocks of Paradise, Newport (1859) Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. By John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872).
Approaching Thunder Storm
(1859) Metropolitan Museum of Art New York.
Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay (1863) National Gallery of Art Washington DC. By Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865).
Ipswich Marshes (1867) New
Britain Museum of Art, Connecticut.
Long Island (1862) Private
Lake George (1869) Metropolitan
Museum of Art New York.
Lake Wawayanda, New Jersey (1870) New Britain Museum of Art, Connecticut. By Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900),
The Icebergs (1861) Dallas
Museum of Art.
In the Andes (1878) Butler
Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio.
Yosemite Falls (1865-70)
Worcester Art Museum, MA.
Sunrise in the Sierras (1872) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. By Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902).
Lake Nicaragua (1871) Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. By Norton Bush (1834-1894).
Beach Scene at Sunset (1870)
New Britain Museum of Art, Connecticut.
in the Woods (1892) Private Collection
The luminist movement was profiled in "American Luminism" (Perspectives USA, Autumn 1954), while in 1989 it was the subject of a definitive exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Individual works by luminist painters can be seen in the best art museums of the United States, such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC. For an A-Z list, please see: Art Museums in America.
For more about oil painting, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART HISTORY