Luminism (1850-1875)

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An Ilex Tree, Kensett
Approaching Thunder Storm, Heade
Childe Roland, Moran
Gorge in the Mountain, Gifford

Brace’s Rock, Lane
Among the Sierra Nevada, Bierstadt
Fiercely the Red Sun Descending, Moran
El Rio de Luz, Church

Luminism was an American landscape painting style of the 1850s to 1870s, characterised by effects of light in landscape, through the use of aerial perspective and the concealment of visible brushstrokes.

Luminist landscapes emphasise tranquility, and often depict calm, reflective water and a soft, hazy sky.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]


Image source: Wikimedia commons
Among the Hudson River School artists, John Frederick Kensett is the acknowledged master of the mode termed “luminism” in American landscape painting.

He spent time with family in London, and in Paris. While in Italy, Kensett spent much of his time with the Curtis brothers, back in America, George, a Brook Farm exponent, a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and, later, an editor of Harper’s Monthly, became one of the artist’s most advantageous friends in navigating New York’s social world as well as orienting him to popular subject matter for his paintings.

His most popular works are well exemplified in two paintings in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection that are believed to have been made about that year, Newport Rocks and Eaton’s Neck, Long Island.
[Source: metmuseum.org]
An Ilex Tree on Lake Albano, Italy1846Oil/CanvasLandscape
Kensett, John Frederick1816-1872, aged 56American painterLuminism
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): 1434-11

Private Collection45 x 64  
Heade became a good friend of the acclaimed landscape painter Frederic Church (1826–1900), but he worked on the periphery of the Hudson River School.

He specialized not in dramatic wilderness subjects, as many of the school did, but preferred more prosaic marshlands and coastal settings. Even when he painted storms, as here, he portrayed not the actual tempest, but its tense preamble of blackening sky and eerily illumined terrain.

This painting was based on a sketch of an approaching storm that Heade witnessed on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay about 1858. The image became the basis for a more elaborate and synthetic version of the subject painted in 1868 (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas).
[Source: metmuseum.org]
Image source: Wikimedia commons
Approaching Thunder Storm1859Oil/CanvasLandscape
Heade, Nartin Johnson1819-1904, aged 85American painterLuminism
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): 1434-12

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City71 x 112  

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came is a narrative poem by English author Robert Browning, written on January 2, 1852[1] and first published in 1855 in the anthology titled Men and Women. In which the knight Roland traverses a dangerous wilderness to reach the dark castle, only to realize the meaninglessness of his quest.

Thomas Moran painted his first version of Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came in 1859.  A brooding and mysterious picture. Moran returned to the subject of Childe Roland more than twenty-five years later, since the poem continued to entice artists, including Edward Burne-Jones and his wife Georgiana, and John La Farge.

Indeed, Moran’s interest in Browning went beyond Childe Roland: in 1890, he purchased the poet’s gondola for use at his summer home on Long Island, New York.
[Source: artsbma.org]
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came1859Oil/CanvasLandscape
Moran, Thomas1837-1926, aged 89American painterLuminism/Hudson River
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): 1434-13

Private Collection122 x 103  
Gifford was the only major Hudson River School painter to have actually grown up in the Catskills region of New York made famous by Thomas Cole, the school’s founding figure.

Rather than focusing on a central mountain or waterfall, as had most artists in earlier depictions of the landscape, Gifford chose to feature light and atmosphere as viewed from Kauterskill (Kaaterskill) Clove in the eastern Catskill Mountains.

The result is a shift from the sublime to the meditative. A hunter and his dog climb the rocks at the left, merging with the terrain as they make their way to the platform overlooking the ravine, which is burnished by an Indian summer haze.
[Source: metmuseum.org]

Image source: metmuseum.org
Gorge in the Mountains, A1862Oil/CanvasLandscape
Gifford, Sanford Robinson1823-1880, aged 57American painterLuminism
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): 1434-14

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City122 x 101  

Image source: terraamericanart.org
The Brace’s Rock series of paintings is thought to comprise Lane’s last dated oils, painted in the fall and winter of 1863–64, not long before his death in August of 1865.

Paintings of unusual peace and harmony, they present a fitting finale to Lane’s evolution as a painter. Each one is as much an ode to the bittersweet recollections of a late summer afternoon as it is a depiction of a familiar Gloucester landmark. 

Lane accomplished this without abandoning any of his fidelity to accurate depiction of place, season, and time of day.
[Source: fitzhenrylaneonline.org]
Brace’s Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester1864Oil/CanvasLandscape
Lane, Fitz Hugh1804-1865, aged 61American painterLuminism
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): 1434-15

Terra Foundation for American Art, Illinois USA26 x 39  
Albert Bierstadt’s beautifully crafted paintings played to a hot market in the 1860s for spectacular views of the nation’s frontiers. Bierstadt was an immigrant and hardworking entrepreneur who had grown rich pairing his skill as a painter with a talent for self-promotion.

He unveiled his canvases as theatrical events, selling tickets and planting news stories—strategies that one critic described as the “vast machinery of advertisement and puffery.” A Bierstadt canvas was elaborately framed, installed in a darkened room, and hidden behind luxurious drapes. At the appointed time, the work was revealed to thunderous applause.

This painting was made in London and toured through Europe to St. Petersburg, fueling Europeans’ interest in emigration. Buoyed by glowing reviews, Bierstadt then offered the painting to American audiences who could take pride in an American artist’s skill and in the natural splendors of their young nation.
[Source: si.edu]

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains. California1868Oil/CanvasLandscape
Bierstadt, Albert1830-1902, aged 72American painterLuminism/Hudson River
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): 1434-16

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC USA183 x 305  
In the years 1875-1876, Thomas Moran created his piece, Fiercely the red sun descending/Burned his way along the heavens. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Song of Hiawatha, is the source of the title, a title that does not directly comment on the poem but instead reflects a literal interpretation of what Moran visualized when he read the line containing that imagery.

This spectacular, captivating image uses a darker colour palette accented with intense red hues. The image is of a dark and rough sea with mountains to the side, made with use of darker muted colors contrasted by a sun that is a mix of reds, yellows, and oranges. It illustrates the image of a sun fiercely descending and burning its way along the skies.
[Source: ncartmuseum.org]

Image source: ncartmuseum.org
Fiercely the Red Sun Descending / Burned His Way Along the Heavens1875-6Oil/CanvasLandscape
Moran, Thomas1837-1926, aged 89American painterLuminism
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): 1434-17

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC 27607 USA85 x 127  

Image source: Wikimedia commons
El Rio de Luz (The River of Light) is a fanciful pastiche based on numerous sketches and notations that Church had made during an 1857 trip to South America. Despite the time–lapse of 20 years, the tightly focused realism, the overall tonal harmony and restrained coloration, and the compositionial unity all lend a remarkable cohesiveness to the work.

Church rendered the verdant foliage with exquisite attention to detail, and his virtuoso treatment of tropical sunlight diffused by morning mist makes the atmosphere seem tangible.

Red–breasted hummingbirds, a flock of waterfowl, and a distant canoeist occupy the scene, but they do not disturb the overall mood of tranquility.

Confronted with the glowing light and heavy vapors of this raw landscape, the viewer is invited to liken daybreak in the tropical rainforest to the dawn of creation itself.
[Source: nga.gov]
El Rio de Luz (The River of Light)1877Oil/CanvasLandscape
Church, Frederick Edwin1826-1900, aged 73American painterLuminism
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.138 x 214  

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