Luminism 1850 – 1950

Term coined c 1950 by the art historian John I H Baur to define a style in 19th-century American painting characterized by the realistic rendering of light and atmosphere (see fig) It was never a unified movement but rather an attempt by several painters working in the USA to understand the mysteries of nature through a precise, detailed rendering of the landscape Luminism flourished c 1850–75 but examples are found both earlier and later Its principal practitioners were Fitz Henry Lane, Martin Johnson Heade, Alfred Thomson Bricher, David Johnson, and Francis Augustus Silva (1835–86) Several artists of the Hudson River School, among them Sanford Robinson Gifford, John Frederick Kensett, and Albert Bierstadt, painted works that could be considered examples of Luminism, as did such Canadian painters as Lucius R O’Brien (eg Sunrise on the Saguenay, 1880; Ottawa, NG) The Luminists concentrated on nuances of light and atmosphere, an approach that may have been suggested by the new, dispassionate medium of photography

Luminism is a late-impressionist or neo-impressionist style in painting which devotes great attention to light effectsLuminism is an American landscape painting style of the 1850s – 1870s, characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through using aerial perspective, and concealing visible brushstrokes Luminist landscapes emphasize tranquility, and often depict calm, reflective water and a soft, hazy sky

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The term luminism was introduced by mid-20th-century art historians to describe a 19th-century American painting style that developed as an offshoot of the Hudson River school The artists who painted in this style did not refer to their own work as “luminism”, nor did they articulate any common painting philosophy outside of the guiding principles of the Hudson River school Many art historians find the term ‘luminism’ problematic J Gray Sweeney argues that “the origins of luminism as an art-historical term were deeply entwined with the interests of elite collectors, prominent art dealers, influential curators, art historians, and constructions of national identity during the Cold War” Building on Sweeney’s work, Alan Wallach has called for a wholesale rethinking of ‘luminism’ as a historical phenomenon

Luminism shares an emphasis on the effects of light with impressionism However, the two styles are markedly different Luminism is characterized by attention to detail and the hiding of brushstrokes, while impressionism is characterized by lack of detail and an emphasis on brushstrokes Luminism preceded impressionism, and the artists who painted in a luminist style were in no way influenced by impressionism

Luminism has also been considereded to represent a contemplative perception of nature According to Earl E Powell, this would be particularly visible in paintings by John Frederick Kensett, who shifted the visual concern for landscape to an interest in quietism, making pictures of mood that depict a poetic experience of nature Furthermore, his painting Shrewsbury River would “reduce nature to cryptographic essentials of compositionwhile rarified veils of light, color, and atmosphere reflected in water offer an experience of silence”, a description akin to Sublime philosophy Similarly, Martin Johnson Heade’s painting Thunder Storm on Narragansett Bay would represent the greatness of nature and a feeling of the sublime arising from an intimate engagement with nature

In the Spanish painting the luminism term or Valencian luminism used for the work of a group of prominent Spanish painters led by Joaquín Sorolla, Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench, Teodoro Andreu, Francisco Benítez Mellado and Vicente Castell

Both styles have little in common Emile Claus’s work is still close to that of the great French impressionists, especially Claude Monet, whereas Dutch luminism, characterized by the use of large color patches, is closer to fauvism

Ingredients of luminism -such as majestic skyes, calm waters, rarefied light, and other representations of magnificence- have been also appreciated in contemporary American painting Such a trend is visible in artists like James Doolin, April Gornik Norman Lundin, Scott Cameron, Steven DaLuz, and Pauline Ziegen The term neoluminism has been suggested in reference to contemporary American luminism