Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Art of the Americas

What is luminism?

Luminism is a twentieth-century word used to describe a nineteenth-century American painting style characterized by landscapes and nature scenes featuring diffused light effects and invisible brushstrokes. Artists associated with the luminist sensibility include George Caleb Bingham, Asher Durand, Martin Johnson Heade, and other artists also considered part of the Hudson River School. A good example of the style is Bingham’s Fur Trader’s Descending the Missouri (1845), a painting filled with luminous mist reflecting off the Missouri River during the early morning. Two figures seated in a canoe, father and son, wear bright clothes that contrast with the color and tone of the hazy trees in the background while what is thought to be a bear cub sits in the far end of the canoe, casting a dark shadow over the water. Martin Johnson Heade’s Sunset Over the Marshes (c. 1890–1904) is another example of American lu-minism. The painting depicts a red-tinged sunset over the salt marshes of Massachusetts, with a pointed haystack prominently positioned in the foreground. Luminism was an important part of early American painting as artists attempted to capture the essence of the country’s landscapes and exemplifies both Romantic and later Realist tendencies in nineteenth-century art.


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