painting and photographic works

Tonalism – a Book Preview

Yesterday, I received an art book that I an quite excited about. It will take me a good while to work through this tome, so this is just a quick preview about the book and the subject.

A History of American Tonalism: 1880-1920

The book is  A History of American Tonalism: 1880-1920 by David A Cleveland. It is a very large and heavy book (610 pages, 22.5 x 30 cm) – substantial physically and in content and meaning.

Because I am not an art historian, nor a formal student, the term “tonalism” is one of the “-isms” I had not really heard of, although I could imagine what it was about. Here is part of the Amazon product description that caught my attention:

“The first definitive overview of the Tonalist movement-the crucial but long-misunderstood missing link in the evolution of American art … details the development and importance of Tonalism, starting with La Farge, Whistler, and Inness in the late 1800s, through its influence on the development of modernism in the Stieglitz Circle, on to Milton Avery, the Abstract Expressionism of Rothko, Gottlieb and Newman, and finally, postmodern Tonalists like Wolf Kahn … this tome argues Tonalism is the driving force in the development of a distinctly American vision, reflecting abstract and spiritual impulses that remain a force in American art today…” [my addition of  bold font]

This aspect of a missing link between of nineteenth century landscape painting which I’ve had an interest in, with “modern” art which I have a growing fascination with, immediately caught my interest. I have been learning a lot about the abstract expressionist movement and am a major fan of Wolf Kahn’s work. That these could all be connected, was a concept I just have to explore – to help me understand the common thread in what inspires my work. As you would get from the title, the focus of the book is on the 40-year period between the 19th and 20th centuries but I like that it does reach forward to other artists and movements in the 1900’s.

So at first glance, this book looks good, but it will not be an easy read. There are lots of photos of paintings although few are full page images. This is not a picture book; it is a book with lots of text – reading and thinking will be required. I am looking forward to spending a good part of my upcoming summer doing just that. Once I have done so, I will follow up with a proper book review


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