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Entries in Tonalism (1)

Monday
Jan092017

Whistler: Elegance and Harmony

James McNeill Whistler - Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights - 1872 - Oil on canvas - 50.2 x 74.3 cm (19 3/4 x 29 1/4 in.) - Tate Gallery, LondonTonalism is a style of painting in which landscapes are depicted in soft light and shadows, often as if through a colored or misty veil. Imported to the U.S. by American painters inspired by the Barbizon School landscapes of the mid-19th century, it was a forerunner to the many schools and colonies of American Impressionism that arose in the first part of the 20th century—and which was the most popular art among members of America’s general public.

One of tonalism’s most influential practitioners was American painter James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) “whose approach was primarily aesthetic, aiming for elegance and harmony in the colors of a painting”. The artist was noted for his nocturnal painting, for his striking and stylistically advanced full-length portraits, and for his brilliant etchings and lithographs. He was one of the chief proponents of the ideas underlying the concept of “art for art’s sake”. 

Later in his life, Whistler felt somewhat out of step with the more modern approaches emerging. Nevertheless, in the early 1900s, many excellent judges of art considered Whistler to be one of the leading painters of the day. Within a relatively short time, however, the reputation of this versatile artist suffered a decline, and only in the last decades of the 20th century did his reputation begin to recover.

One of the downsides of the earlier Modern era—in all respects—is that it tended to disregard many of the achievements of prior errors. Consequently, there’s been (and remains) a great deal of catching up to do. In art, all achievements of the past and present need to be examined and acknowledged—and all artists should be encouraged and appreciated for whatever styles, subjects and techniques they choose to pursue.