Tonalism – The Concept
Tonalism, a Western Painting style, was witnessed among American artists during 1880-1915. Emphasizing completely on the effects of shadow and light over details and colors, this art form usually includes Landscape Paintings in low-toned shades. While early Tonalist works have been found to be dark and moody, with an extremely soft focus and understated hues, the style has evolved with time to make use of warmer colors.
Early Tonalist painters have been known to follow either one of the following two commonest trends:
o Soft Style – The French Barbizon School and the works of popular Tonalist George Inness (1825-94) represent it. A few remarkable landscapes of the genre often include precise details, such as the bright vast skies, painted dexterously to capture a variety of shades.
o Aesthetic Style – The second approach to Tonalism is best expressed in the works of Aesthetic Tonalist James McNeil Whistler (1834-1903). Whistler studied Japanese Art, owing to which he usually focused on following an uncomplicated approach when it came to painting. His compositions were strikingly simple, where he freely used dark colors in an attempt to enhance the dramatic effect, and often stuck to a limited palette.
Although, this remarkable genre of painting originated in America, it was largely influenced by the landscapes belonging to the Hudson River School and the French paintings from both, Luminism and the Barbizon School. Numerous foreign artists, trained in Paris and Munich, not only paved the path for the modification of the prevailing Hudson River Art School, but also introduced alterations in the enormously detailed panoramic images of the American scenes. All these influences resulted into the increasing taste for a more poetic, expressive, and intimate style of Landscape Painting. Tonalism accorded a plenty of scope to communicate emotions and expressions through simple brushstrokes. The Tonalists from America tended to make use of a relatively neutral palette of calm shades, such as blue, green, violet, and mauve, along with the delicate hues of grays. These colors were modulated with utmost care, in order to create dominant and bold tones. The artists generally chose to paint the scenes of dusk or dawn, milky moonbeam, and misty atmosphere.
Most of the first generation Tonalists were born in or after 1845. Apart from the two veterans mentioned above, Edward Mitchell Bannister (African American – 1828-1901), Jean Charles Cazin (French – 1840-1901), Henry Farrer (English born American – 1844-1903), Max Meldrum (Scottish – 1875-1955), and American painters, such as Bruce Crane (1857-1937), Leon Dabo (1865-1960), Thomas Dewing (1851-1938), Charles Warren Eaton (1857-1937), Percy Gray (1869-1952), Xavier Martínez (1869-1943), Arthur F. Mathews (1860-1945), Granville Redmond (1871-1935), Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916), Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917), Edward Steichen (1879-1973), Dwight William Tryon (1849-1925), & John Twachtman (1853-1902), were some other great Tonalists.
By 1915, European Modernism and Impressionism completely overshadowed the popularity of Tonalism however. Soon, an interesting ‘toned’ era ended.