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.

Of all the ‘isms’  I believe that Tonalism and Luminism are most closely related. It isn’t very clear, 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 the interaction between sky, water, and landscape.         


  • Luminists used cool, clear colors
  • Luminism represented specific places realistically
  • Detailed objects modeled by light
  • Unnoticeable brushstrokes
  • Melodramatic, grandiose oversized landscapes
  • The 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-known 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 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 colors and meticulously detailed objects modeled by light. The most prominent luminist painters were John Frederick Kensett, Martin Johnson Heade, and Fitz Hugh Lane.

Don’t miss this fabulous article, “Light it Up” which delves into Luminism, by Christopher Volpe.

Painting the Perfect Sunset: A Guide for Artists

For related reading please check out:

The Importance of Value & Tone in Painting

How to Bring Out the Mona Lisa in Your Artwork


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