Inventing luminism: 'Labels are the Dickens'

J. Gray Sweeney

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Luminism is a term widely accepted in the literature and pedagogy of American art today, but it was invented in the 1940s and 1950s by curator John Baur and Boston collector Maxim Karolik. They applied the paradigm of Impressionism to a construction of American antebellum landscape painting, and linked it with ideas of Emersonian transcendentalism, national exceptionalism, and 'purity', well suited to the Cold War era. The paper shows how they, along with later scholars constructed a new formalist narrative of American art history around the work of rediscovered artists such as Martin J. Heade and Fitz Hugh Lane who were labelled luminists. The subsequent production of scholarship furthered the process of reifying the term. A principal beneficiary of this process was the art market.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-120+196
JournalOxford Art Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History


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