The term Luminism refers to two art historical phenomena: a form of Belgian Post-impressionism, and a movement in 18th century American painting. The latter style, with its emphasis on the effects of light in painting, became a domestic precursor to American Impressionism. Luminism was an atmospheric landscape art, which focussed on light values, and was developed by a number of artists independently. The style emerged in North America between 1850 and 1875. The first key Luminist work was the watercolour series, "Atmospheric Landscapes of North America" by George Harvey (1800-78) executed in the 1830s.
As part of a focus on photography, the American Luminists – who were linked to the Hudson River School – found new ways of depicting light in their paintings. European landscape artists, such as the German early Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, and the Dutch Baroque master, Jacob van Ruisdael, also influenced Luminism.
Luminist works avoided picturesque landscape details, and instead embraced ambitious images of nature, which possessed a spiritual depth and an almost magical tranquillity. The composition was calm and decorated with or without minimal staffage. Broad, landscape formats skilfully provided the backdrop for panorama-esque views. The effects of sun and moonlight played an important role in the works. Luminist painters applied paint very finely, and executed precisely rendered drawings.
It was only around 1870 that Luminist brush strokes became looser, influenced by European trends. The key exponents of Luminism (who were also part of the Hudson River School), included Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-65), Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908), David Johnson (1827-1908), Francis Augustus Silva (1835-86), Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-80), John Frederick Kensett (1816-72) and Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902).