For luminist painters, God was seen in the stillness of nature and not necessarily in its wildness (as was depicted in Thomas Cole’s paintings) (Driscoll 62). More specifically, John Frederick Kensett aimed to portray the harmony with which God created the universe in his paintings (Driscoll 63), seeking to evoke a “quiet dialogue with nature” (Mandel 18). He achieved this by focusing on quiet water scenes and by meticulously including the colors linking the earth, air, water, and light (Mandel 18).
John Frederick Kensett’s Lake George (1856) (lower left) and Lake George (1869) (lower right) exemplify the harmonious, contemplative nature of luminist paintings. In each painting, Kensett focuses on the water and its absorption of light, also using color schemes that unify the entire painting (Mandel 79). For example, in Lake George (1856) he uses pink tones in the mountains that mirror similar tones in the clouds, joining the different elements of the painting (Mandel 79). Thus, Kensett uses color to unify the landscape and convey the existing harmony between God and the environment. These paintings differ from the detailed, documentary-like landscapes that characterized earlier paintings meant for surveys. They also do not attest to God’s control over the environment as Cole’s paintings do. Instead they emphasize color in order to depict the harmony that exists between God and nature, illustrating the common view of the Adirondacks as a place of peace and quiet following the Civil War.
Lake George (1856) Lake George (1869)
Driscoll, John Paul and Howat, John K. John Frederick Kensett: An American Master. Worcester Art Museum, 1985. Print.
Mandel, P. C. Fair Wilderness: American Paintings in the Collection of The Adirondack Museum (A. W. Gilborn, Ed.). New York: The Adirondack Museum, 1990. Print.
Image Sources (in order of appearance)
Banner courtesy of: http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-features/article/Hyde-Collection-show-features-Adirondack-images-6051009.php
Lake George (1869) courtesy of: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/15.30.61