Tonalism was an American art movement whose pictures are unified by a single tone of colored atmosphere or mist. In the late 1890s American art critics began calling these paintings “tonal” because of their concern with dark, neutral hues, such as gray, brown or blue, that would usually dominate their compositions. Two of the leading painters associated with this style are George Inness and James McNeill Whistler.

Inness was the painter whose theories and writings helped to define this American movement as something distinct from the French Impressionist movement of the same period and the earlier French Barbizon school of picturesque landscapes that influenced all the Tonalist painters. Like Impressionism, Tonalist paintings are loosely painted with clearly visible brush work, but unlike Impressionism that sought to convey how light acted in space, Tonalist works tended to use a very restricted range of color—often limiting their work to a single dominant hue in a picture—and were concerned with the emotional affect of their scenes rather than the presentation of lighting effects.

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225 Nebraska Street | Sioux City IA 51101-1712 | TEL 712 279 6272 | FAX 712 255 2921

All exhibitions and programs are supported in part by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts; the Art Center Association of Sioux City; and the City of Sioux City.
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