Landscape painting in the American context emerged in the 19th century along with the philosophical works of Emerson and Thoreau. The literary arts also began to turn toward an examination of the natural world at about this time. American painters, whom had previously been preoccupied with portrait painting — though it is likely fair to say that their clients were rather obsessed with portraits of themselves and their riches — were inspired by the singularly American philosophy of transcendentalism and turned to the painting of landscapes. As art critic Barbara Novak explains: To the transcendental mind, object and idea were one, and all matter was an extension of God. Thus, the landscape artists, and especially the luminists after Copley, could value the smallest fact in nature--the leaf, the pebble in the foreground of a Heade landscape — and embrace also the larger equivalence of God with nature through the infinite space of a Kensett distance or the other-worldly light of a Bierstadt sky.
[...] The remainder of this essay will argue that, in fact, luminism is not a useful descriptor of American landscape painting in the nineteenth century. The term "luminism" was not even in use in the nineteenth century and only emerged about halfway through the twentieth century. Twentieth century American landscape painters were reacting to an entirely different set of social conditions, and that essential quality of exploring the light m called luminism was informed by nineteenth century philosophy, politics, and aesthetics. [...]
[...] He always brought home such sketches and from them composed his pictures, as can be seen in his drawings like Flume in the White Mountains. The beginning of Cole's career coincided with the Boston publication of Wordsworth's poetical works in 1824. After Cole had painted his early mountain scenes, some of them definitely associated with American history, he in 1827 painted his St. John Preaching in the Wilderness. Although the mountain background of the picture is based on studies of natural scenes, the impact of the picture lies in the figure of St. [...]
[...] Marin was irked by the static monotony of the rectangular frame, and a few bold strokes, banking on the frame like billiard shots, enclosed the painting with an appropriate geometry. Composition, for him, works out as a controlled progression through a painting, navigation from headland to headland. Reality was again held at arm's length in Marin's work, but not as it was amongst the luminists. But rather than idealizing his scenes, Marin used cubist sensibilities to break them down into component parts. [...]
[...] The use of Cubist techniques and feminist-tinged aesthetics are responses to the twentieth century; they are philosophical replacements for transcendentalism in American landscape painting. What Does "Luminism" Tell Us? Of course, it can be argued that we do not need the concept of luminism to explain the similarities, such as they are, between nineteenth and twentieth century American landscape painting. Instead, eliminating the concept helps we better explain Winslow Homer, for example, as a transitionary figure between centuries. As America hasn't moved, realistic paintings of America's great scenic spots will betray a very similar sort of light in the sky and across the ground, hills, water, and buildings the artists' have decided to depict. [...]
[...] The body and the sensual were central to O'Keeffe's conceptions, where the luminists tended to deemphasize the human in order to bring the romantic qualities of the landscape to the foreground. The Quality of Her Landscapes O'Keeffee's landscapes are qualitatively different than those of male artists for another reason as well the scapes and the objects within are imminently legible. Legibility, the capability with which a figure or shape can be recognized against its background, depends on appropriate illumination, the size and shape of the object, and the color contrast between the figure and its background. [...]
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