Aesthetics Wiki

Luminism is an American landscape painting style of the 1850s to 1870s. It is characterized by effects of light in the landscape, through the use of aerial perspective and the concealment of visible brushstrokes. Luminist landscapes emphasize tranquility and often depict calm, reflective water and a soft, hazy sky.

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.

As defined by art historian Barbara Novak, luminist artworks tend to stress the horizontal, and demonstrate the artist's close control of structure, tone, and light. The light is generally cool, hard, and non-diffuse; "soft, atmospheric, painterly light is not luminist light". Brushstrokes are concealed in such a way that the painter's personality is minimized. Luminist paintings tend not to be large so as to maintain a sense of timeless intimacy. The picture surface or plane is emphasized in a manner sometimes seen in primitivism. These qualities are present in different amounts depending on the artist, and within a work. Novak states that luminism, of all American art, is most closely associated with transcendentalism. The definitional difficulties have contributed to over-use of the term


  • Cold, hard light (as opposed to soft, atmospheric light)
  • No hint of brushstrokes
  • Natural scenes (typically seascapes and river views)
  • Tone to show atmosphere (instead of brushstrokes)
  • Accurate rendition of a scene/landscape


There are many artists whose works show Luminism. These are some prominent artists:

  • Fitz Henry Lane
  • Martin Johnson Heade
  • Sanford Gifford
  • John F. Kensett
  • George Harvey
  • Frederic Edwin Church