Luminism, The Painter of Light

Many collectors and customers who come in our galleries ask, "Did Thomas Kinkade invent luminism?” Thomas Kinkade is known as the Painter of Light, did he invent the technique? Thomas Kinkade did not invent the technique as many people think.  Instead, he took this method of painting to a whole new level.  Additionally, by marketing himself as "The Painter of Light", some collectors have just incorrectly assumed that Thom invented luminism.  The following article discusses the early days of luminism that actually dates back to the early 1800's:

Luminism was an intuitive search by American painters for a style of light, growing out of the tonal painting of the 1830's and 1840's. It is an entirely different phenomenon from American impressionism which begins 20 to 30 years later.

The American Luminists exploration of light was not by means of brilliance and variety of hue (the "broken" color of French Impressionists), but by a delicate modulation of tone combined with an equally delicate exactness of outline.

The movement towards Luminism and toward a high key, began first among the romantic landscapists. Painting out-of-doors made these pioneers conscious of the higher luminosities of sunlight, far up the scales of tone and hue, beyond the sober palette that painters were then using. American painters, having not yet formed a strong, coherent national tradition of style, groped their way forward by individual experiments, not all great, or even successful, yet tending toward a common goal, "Nature and how she should be portrayed."

While American Impressionism was a struggle to adapt to an already perfected style worked out the the French Impressionists, to a different landscape and a different temperament, Luminism was a struggle to find a style, to express a growing, yet uncrystallized intuitive vision. American painters (like their colleagues all over the Western World) felt a mysterious tide of interest in light that, in the 1850's and 60's dominated the direction of artistic development. Luminism grew up within romantic realism, gradually altering it more and more into a style of light. Under this heading, landscape painters such as Kensett, Whttridge, and Sanford Gifford are listed as the most prominent and successful of that era.

If one wonders why the study of light did not lead the American Luminists to the same rich, coloristic style that was developing in France, the method is the answer. In France, the study of light led painters to direct painting, piling on a thick impasto and dissolving outline in vibrations of color and atmosphere (plein-air paintings). However, the American Luminists continued to make studies from nature either in small pencil drawings, as delicately precise as a steel engraving, or in very small color sketches. The large oils were executed in the studio; and the poetic use of light was held within the control of clean exact outlines and a thin, carefully applied film of paint.

(Author Unknown)

Additional Resources

Picture shown above:

Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor (1857)

Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865)

Oil on canvas

Size: 62.2 x 99.4 cm (24 1/2 x 39 1/8)

John Wilmerding Collection

From the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) Web site: