Definition, Characteristics of American Landscape Painting Style.

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Fur Traders Descending the Missouri
(1845) By George Caleb Bingham.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Luminism (c.1850-75)


What is Luminism?
Luminist Artists
Characteristics of Luminist Painting
Famous Luminist Oil Paintings
Luminist Exhibitions


Pool in the Woods (1892)
By George Inness.
Usually classified under
Tonalism, but very close to

For pleinairism, see:
Plein Air Painting.
For the 19th French style, see:
Barbizon School of Landscape.
For 18th/19th English style, see:
English Landscape Painting.

What is Luminism? - Characteristics

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.

Luminist Artists

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.

Long Island (1862)
Private Collection.
By James Augustus Suydam.

For a discussion of the different
types of art, see: Definition of Art.

For the chronology and dates
of key events in the evolution
of visual arts around the world
see: History of Art Timeline.

For details of the best modern
painters, since 1800, see:
Old Masters (Painters to 1830)
Famous Painters (1830-2010)

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

For plein air painting in 19th
century Russia, see:
Wanderers Movement.

Characteristics of Luminist Painting

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. For more on the latter, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.

Famous Luminist Oil Paintings

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
By Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865).

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.
By Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904).

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.
By Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904).

Long Island (1862) Private Collection.
By James Augustus Suydam.

Lake George (1869) Metropolitan Museum of Art New York.
By John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872).

Lake Wawayanda, New Jersey (1870) New Britain Museum of Art, Connecticut. By Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900),

The Icebergs (1861) Dallas Museum of Art.
By Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900).

In the Andes (1878) Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio.
By Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900).

Yosemite Falls (1865-70) Worcester Art Museum, MA.
By Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902).

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.
By Alfred T. Bricher (1837-1908).

Pool in the Woods (1892) Private Collection
By George Inness.

In addition, one might also include a number of landscape paintings by Thomas Cole (1801-48) the pioneering leader of the Hudson River School, such as American Lake Scene (1844) Detroit Institute of Arts.

Luminist Exhibitions

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.


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