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Tonalism Collage

Tonalism

Started: 1870

Ended: 1915

Tonalism Timeline

Quotes

"The true use of art is, first, to cultivate the artist's own spiritual nature."
George Inness
"A work of art is not to instruct, not to edify, but to awaken an emotion,"
George Inness
"...the less imitation, the more suggestion and hence more poetry."
Dwight William Tryon
"Nature contains the elements, in color and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. "
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
"Art should be independent of all clap-trap - should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it; and that is why I insist on calling my works 'arrangements' and 'harmonies.'"
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
"It looks like Barbizon, the land of Millet...This land has been farmed and cultivated by men, and then allowed to revert back into the arms of mother nature. It is only waiting to be painted."
Henry Ward Ranger
"A cloudy sky to make it mysterious and a fog to increase the mystery. Just imagine how suggestive things are..."
John Henry Twachtman

KEY ARTISTS

James WhistlerJames Whistler
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George InnessGeorge Inness
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Albert Pinkham RyderAlbert Pinkham Ryder
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Edward SteichenEdward Steichen
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"Paint should not be applied thick. It should be like a breath on the surface of a pane of glass."

James Whistler Signature

Synopsis

Working within a carefully chosen palette of closely related colors, the Tonalists aspired to emulate musicality and inspire contemplation. By arranging color and forms, they believed that landscapes could evoke emotion and suggest deep, cosmic harmonies. Their gentle color schemes and softly brushed contours quickly became popular, influencing musicians and poets. Unlike their contemporaries, such as the Luminists and the Impressionists, the Tonalists favored cool palettes and often chose nocturnal or modest scenes of contemplative quiet. The simplicity and attention to composition found in Tonalism contributed to the abstractions that would develop in 20th-century American modernism.

Key Ideas

Inspired by strategies of musical composition, the Tonalists developed theories of color and line that they believed heightened the symbolic potential of landscape painting. Building on the example of the Hudson River School artists, they rearranged elements of the observed world in order to better convey musical and visual harmonies.
Tonalist painters emphasized both the formal components of their work - color, line, and shape - and the symbolic meaning conveyed to the viewer. Bypassing narrative as a means of communicating spirituality, their example was instrumental to the development of early-20th-century abstraction.
The aesthetics of Tonalist painting appealed to Pictorialist photographers who wanted to establish photography as an artistic medium. By manipulating their exposures and printing, these photographers were able to simulate the atmospheric effects and tonal relationships that defined the style. This emphasis on process would influence generations of photographers, even after this style faded from popularity.

Definition of Tonalism

Tonalism Image

The term Tonalism describes a style of American art focused primarily on depicting landscape, emphasizing tonal values to express mood or poetic feeling. Its origins date back to the early 1870s, when James McNeill Whistler, an innovator who would come to be identified with the style, began using musical terms like "nocturnes," to title his work. At this time, he started looking at paintings as if they were like musical compositions, arranging tonal values and colors as a composer would score a series of related notes. The style caught on quickly: by the 1890s, the term "Tonal School" was used to describe artists who emphasized closely-related palettes and in 1910 the modernist critic Sadakichi Hartmann wrote, "Tone is the ideal of the modern painter. It is his highest ambition. It is the powerful subduer of all the incongruities of modern art." Shortly thereafter, however, the movement faded from popularity, replaced by more abstract approaches to modernism.

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Tonalism Overview Continues

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino
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