Luminism 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 tranquillity, and often depict calm, reflective water and a soft, hazy sky.
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.
Leading American luminists
- Robert Salmon (1775 – ca. 1845)
- Fitz Henry Lane (1804 – 1865)
- George Caleb Bingham (1811 – 1879)
- John Frederick Kensett (1816 – 1872)
- James Augustus Suydam (1819 – 1865)
- Martin Johnson Heade (1819 – 1904)
- Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823 – 1880)
- Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823 – 1900)
- Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900)
- David Johnson (1827 – 1908)
- Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902)
- Edmund Darch Lewis (1835 – 1910)
- J. Gray Sweeney, “Inventing Luminism: ‘Labels are the Dickens,’” Oxford Art Journal 26, no. 2 (2003), p. 93.
- Alan Wallach, "Rethinking 'Luminism': Taste, Class, and Aestheticizing Tendencies in Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Painting," in Nancy Siegel ed., The Cultured Canvas: New Perspectives on American Landscape Painting (Dartmouth: University of New England Press, 2011), pp. 115-147
- Luminism article in ArtLex Art Dictionary
- John Wilmerding "American Light. The Luminist Movement 1850-1875. Paintings Drawings Photographs." National Gallery of Art Washington 1980
- American Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a fully digitized 3 volume exhibition catalog
- Hudson River school visions: the landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains much on Luminism