Luminism refers to an earlier generation of landscape painters from the late nineteenth century who painted scenes along the Hudson River and the eastern shores.

Out of all the ‘isms’  I believe that Tonalism and Luminism are most closely related.  It is confusing, but there are some recognizable differences between the two.  First of all, the luminist painters preceded the tonalist movement.  But, both popular American art movements were inspired by interaction between sky, water and landscape. 

  Luminism represented specific places realistically
  • Luminist used cool, clear colors
  • Detailed objects modeled by light
  • Unnoticeable brushstrokes
  • Melodramatic, grandiose oversized landscapes
  • Artist wanted to capture the immenseness as they viewed their subject on location
  • Emphasis on nature’s grand scale
  • The American counterpart to Impressionists

The American Luminists, were a group of well know painters including Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), and Frederic E. Church (1826-1900).  Both are favorites of mine.  Their goal was not merely to illustrate nature’s radiance, but also to interpret the landscape with a spiritual meaning. William Keith’s words could apply to this earlier generation: “What a landscape painter wants to render is not the natural landscape, but the state of feeling which the landscape produces in himself.”

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia:  Luminism  It is characteristic of the works of a group of U.S. painters of the late 19th century, influenced by the Hudson River school. Typically landscapes or seascapes, with sky occupying nearly half the composition, luminist works are distinguished by cool, clear colours and meticulously detailed objects modeled by light. The most prominent luminist painters were John Frederick Kensett, Martin Johnson Heade, and Fitz Hugh Lane.

For related reading please check out:

The Importance of Value & Tone in Painting

How to Bring Out the Mona Lisa in Your Own Artwork


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