Tonalism

DEFINITION

An art movement in the late 1900s emanating from Barbizon, France, it was a group of French painters led by Thomas Couture (1815-1879) and Camille Corot (1796-1875). Characteristics of Tonalist painting are serene, un-dramatic landscapes minus human activity but often with the suggestion someone had just been present; harmonious and sombre colors; traditional or academically informed composition; conveyance of the artist???s personal vision and emotion; emphasis on soul and spirit or poetics; subdued tones; and studio-created canvases painted from sketches rather than plein-air. In its adherence to academic principles of composition, it was traditional, but with the subjective emphasis on the artist???s emotions, the approach was groundbreaking. It was also a break with the Barbizon School painters whose style was Realism and who often depicted bright sunny days with human activity in the landscape, especially toiling peasants. It is unknown when the term was first used, but it???s origin can be linked to Henry Ward Ranger, one of its chief American proponents. He used the word Tonalism in 1914 in his book ???Art-Talks with Ranger???. Ranger was also the founder of Old Lyme Colony in Connecticut, which began as a gathering place for American Tonalist painters. Other American artists associated with the movement include William Morris Hunt, James McNeill Whistler, George Inness, Charles Eaton, Birge Harrison, Alexander Wyant and Homer Dodge Martin. Tonalism appealed to many late 19th-century persons in western culture because it was a time of increasing interest and acceptance of philosophies of spiritual transcendence as taught by Ralph Waldo Emerson and visionary Swedish philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg. The first major exhibition of Tonalist painting in America was sponsored by The Lotos Club in February 1896 in New York City. By 1905, Tonalism was overtaken by Impressionism followed by the Ashcan School and Social Realism. Sources: Ralph Sessions, Introduction, and William Gerdts, essay in ???The Poetic Vision: American Tonalism??? by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, (2005)

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