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Examples of  Tonalist Paintings from the 19th century (click to enlarge)

Important 19th Century Tonalist Painters
Listed Alphabetically

Ralph Albert Blakelock 1847-1919
Thomas Wilmer Dewing   1851-1938
Robert Swain Gifford1840-1905
Alexander Thomas Harrison 1854 -1929
Lowell Birge Harrison  1854-1929
George Inness1825-1894
John La Farge  1835-1910
Arthur Frank Mathews 1860-1945
John Francis Murphy 1853-1921
Albert Pinkham Ryder  1847-1917
John Henry Twachtman 1853-1902
Julian Alden Weir 1852-1919
James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1843-1903


Description of the Tonalist Painting Style and Technique

Tonalism is rooted in the French Barbizon movement, which emphasized atmosphere and shadow. The Tonalist style employs a distinctive technique by the use of color's middle values as opposed to stronger contrast and high chroma. Resulting in a understated and compelling overall effect. The Tonalist subject matter is never entirely apparent; their is no effort to communicate a message or narrate a story. Instead of relating a story, each sensitively chosen color, composition, and line is arranged to create an intriguing visual poem.

The interiors of tonalist paintings are generally elegant and sparsely decorated, tonally uniform, simplified and indistinct; the figures are usually presented alone in silent contemplation. Landscapes are typically luscious and luminous with evocative atmospheric effects featuring misty backgrounds illuminated by moonlight. Tonalists painters were drawn to both the natural and spiritual realms. They sought to awaken the viewers consciousness by shrouding the subject in a misty indistinct veil of emotionalism. The palette is minimal, characterized by warm hues of brown, soft greens, gauzy yellows and muted grays. Preferred themes were evocative moonlight nights and poetic, vaporous landscapes. Tonalist painters seemed to favored unconscious states and psychological experiences over reality.


Key terms and phrase associated with the tonalist movement - obscured details, single-figure themes, the natural and spiritual domain, waking, unconscious states, sleep, dreams, death, aura, religious significance, emotionalism, emotionalists, pictorial space, compositional space, diffused light, incandescent glow, organic forms, artistic inspiration, illusionistic representation, luminous, transcendentalist, glowing, metaphysical, emotional expression, poetic, evocative


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