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Entries in Tonalism (2)

Monday
Aug122019

Henry Percy Gray

Henry Percy Gray - Landscape with Oaks and Stream - 1927 - Watercolor on canvas - Private collection (click photo for larger image)American artist Henry Percy Gray (1869-1952) was born into a San Francisco family with broad literary and artistic tastes. He studied at the San Francisco School of Design. While he had some early Impressionistic tendencies, his basic approach to composition and color was derived from the Barbizon School and Tonalism, which were emphasized at the School of Design. 

In 1895 Gray moved to New York City where he spent 11 years working as head of the art department for the New York Journal.  While in NYC he studied at the Art Students League and with William Merritt Chase.  Gray returned to San Francisco in 1906 and joined the art department of the Examiner where he remained until about 1915.  By that time he had established himself as a professional landscape painter. 

From 1918-23 Gray maintained a studio in San Francisco's old Monkey Block (now the Transamerica Pyramid), which also served as his living quarters. Around 1910, he began signing his paintings in script instead of the block letters he had used since student days. 

In 1923 Gray married and settled in Monterey, where the newlyweds purchased for their home—and had rebuilt on another site—the historic Casa Bonifacio. Working from his studio attached to the house, Gray attained total mastery of his watercolor technique. In 1939 they sold the home, and after two years in San Francisco, settled in San Anselmo in Marin County. 

Gray is primarily known for his romantic and lush depictions of the Northern California landscape.

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.