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James Whistler (1834 - 1903) American, Tonalist

Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother c. 1871

Recognized under its informal name Whistler's Mother


James Whistler's
Tonalist style is rooted in the French Barbizon movement, which emphasized atmosphere and shadow. The unifying factor is that all the colors in the Tonalist palette are nearly the same value, resulting in an understated and harmonious composition.  The Tonalist subject matter is never entirely apparent; their is no effort to communicate a message or narrate a story. Whistler described the painting process "As light fades and the shadows deepen, all petty and exacting details vanish, everything trivial disappears, and I see things as they are in great strong masses: the buttons are lost, but the sitter remains; the sitter is lost, but the shadow remains; the shadow is lost, but the picture remains. And that, night cannot efface from the painter's imagination."

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