LuminismAt a time when their French counterparts were discovering the exquisite effects of light and colour upon their pastoral countryside and expressing the wonder of that discovery through Impressionism, artists on this side of the ocean were making a similar discovery as well. Except that instead of a loosening of style and technique characteristic of the emotional element inherent in the French psyche, on this side of the Atlantic, just the opposite was occurring.
The American counterpart to Impressionism has come to be called Luminism. Amongst its illustrious practitioners were Martin Johnson Heade, John F. Kensett, Worthington Whittredge, Sanford R. Gifford, and most notably Fitz Hugh Lane. (I like to think he was a famous ancestor but I've never looked into it.) His paintings of the New England coastal environs explore with a stunning, yet studied Yankee precision many of the same artistic elements the Impressionist were rendering from a much more intuitive point of view. Impressionism was romantic. Luminism was intellectual.
In France, landscape paintings are peopled with those of the rising middle class. In this country, when man intruded into these noble scenes it was in the person of what we now call the Native American. Though not all American landscapes were of the Luminist variety, many of the dramatic (perhaps even melodramatic) lighting effects were quite similar. Impressionist paintings were usually of modest proportions. But in this country, where "bigger is better" has always been a keynote, the canvases were often of immense size, perhaps in keeping with the overwhelming immenseness the artist felt as they viewed their subjects firsthand. Whatever the case, in both countries, the landscape rose to a forefront of art that it had never known before...or since.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
12 November 1997