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Tonal Impressionism was an artistic style of "mood" paintings with simplified compositions, done in a limited range of colors, as with Tonalist works, but using the brighter, more chromatic palette of Impressionism. An exhibition titled "Tonal Impressionism" was curated by the art historian Harry Muir Kurtzworth for the Los Angeles Art Association Gallery at the Los Angeles Central Library in June 1937 with the works of a number of prominent California artists. In recent years, the term has also been used to describe a non-linear approach to painting where the subject is massed in with tonal values without the use of underdrawing.
Tonalism is usually characterized by art historians as paintings of simplified subjects, that are painted in a gauzy, indistinct way with a lack of detail, using a limited palette with variations of the same colors. American painters who are considered Tonalists are James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), George Inness (1825–1894), Dwight William Tryon (1849–1925), Charles Warren Eaton and often John Twachtman (1853–1922). The French Impressionists adopted a very high key palette that used many of the recently created man made pigments which allowed them to better capture the full intensity of sunlight. The concept of Tonal Impressionism that the art historian Harry Muir Kurtzworth came up with was that that artists could work in lower light conditions, in their studio or out of doors in the moonlight, or at sunrise or sunset, at the times of day that the Tonalists favored, but use the palette of Impressionism.
The first use of this term seems to be in a catalog for an exhibition titled "Tonal Impressionism" which he curated for the Los Angeles Art Association Gallery at the Los Angeles Central Library in June 1937. Kurtzworth, who chose the paintings and wrote the catalog preface stated that: "By tone or tonal painting is meant the feeling of harmony, either in high or low key, brought about by carefully adjusting values and colors, with the result that instead of a brilliant, powerful impression of the atmosphere of subdued light out of doors in the early morning, late afternoon, or a quietly lighted interior is conveyed by the artist's skill."
Harry Muir Kurtzworth selected a number of well known California painters for the June, 1937 exhibition. Hungarian-born Charles Bensco was represented with a single painting, Frank Tolles Chamberlain, a Pasadena painter who had studied with the Tonalist painter Dwight Tyron, had six works, Alson Clark, another Pasadena artist and student of Whistler, had six as well, the San Marino desert painter Clyde Forsyth had two, the Los Angeles painter Ralph Holmes has six, the western painter Frank Tenney Johnson, known as " The Master of Moonlight," had one work, the portrait and landscape painter Theodore Lukits had four, J. Mason Reeves Jr. had six and the La Cresenta portrait painter F. Seymour Thomas had four.
It is difficult to have a precise idea of what the assembled exhibition would look like because many of the works cannot be located. Frank Tenney Johnson's loan entry was in the possession of a prominent gallery recently, so it is known that it as a moonlit painting of a cowboy smoking a cigarette, a common subject for the artist. Three of the works by Theodore Lukits have been seen in recent years as well. "Idle Hour" was a much exhibited nude depicted in a lowly lit, "smokey" atmospheric interior. This work was frequently exhibited, in the 1920s and 1930s as well as in recent years and is now in the collection of a prominent gallery. The portrait work "Gesture" is a sensual portrait of the artist's wife, done in much higher key, but still with a limited palette. This painting resides in the collection of the Jonathan Art Foundation. "Spirit of the Missions" is a mystical depiction of an apparition of Father Serra in his private garden at Mission San Juan Capistrano seen in a blue moonlight. This work by Lukits surfaced about a decade ago and was exhibited in Father Serra's Garden at the Mission as part of a benefit in 2001. Because of the works we are aware of, it is possible to see what Kurtzworth considered works of "Tonal Impressionism." The moonlights by Theodore Lukits and Frank Tenney Johnson that were in the 1937 exhibition depicted their moonlight scenes enveloped in the blue tones of Impressionism rather than the earth based pigments that would have been used by the artists active in California Tonalism.
Today, a number of contemporary painters use the term Tonal Impressionism in a different way. The painter Domenic Vignola is one advocate of this approach. These artists use the term Tonal Impressionism to describe an approach by which they paint the figure without drawing, that is without using the brush or charcoal to draw the outlines of the figure or subject in on the canvas. Instead they see the masses as light and dark tones. Essentially, it is a way of using the light, the gradations of light and dark to outline the shape of what the artist is painting rather than line. With this approach, the artist lays in the broadest masses first and then refines the painting as he works, gradually bringing the figure "into focus." Advocates of this method claim that this is the way that historic artists like Titian, Diego Valesquez, John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn worked. With this type of approach, the higher the contrast, the stronger the line would be between light and dark, where more subtle gradations would result in "lost" edges. If the original usage is still used, then contemporary artists like Dan Pinkham and Peter Seitz Adams could be considered "Tonal Impressionists" Of these two, Pinkham has been heavily influenced by Emil Carlsen and John Twachtman and Adams is a student of Theodore Lukits who was in the original 1937 Los Angeles exhibit.
The Barbizon school of painters were part of an art movement towards Realism in art, which arose in the context of the dominant Romantic Movement of the time. The Barbizon school was active roughly from 1830 through 1870. It takes its name from the village of Barbizon, France, near the Forest of Fontainebleau, where many of the artists gathered. Some of the most prominent features of this school are its tonal qualities, color, loose brushwork, and softness of form.
American Impressionism was a style of painting related to European Impressionism and practiced by American artists in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. American Impressionism is a style of painting characterized by loose brushwork and vivid colors. The style often depicted landscapes mixed with scenes of upper-class domestic life.
John Henry Twachtman was an American painter best known for his impressionist landscapes, though his painting style varied widely through his career. Art historians consider Twachtman's style of American Impressionism to be among the more personal and experimental of his generation. He was a member of "The Ten", a loosely allied group of American artists dissatisfied with professional art organizations, who banded together in 1898 to exhibit their works as a stylistically unified group.
Theodore Robinson was an American painter best known for his Impressionist landscapes. He was one of the first American artists to take up Impressionism in the late 1880s, visiting Giverny and developing a close friendship with Claude Monet. Several of his works are considered masterpieces of American Impressionism.
Alson S. Clark was an American Impressionist painter best remembered for his impressionist landscapes. Clark was also a photographer.
Henry Ward Ranger was an American artist. Born in western New York State, he was a prominent landscape and marine painter, an important Tonalist, and the leader of the Old Lyme Art Colony. Ranger became a National Academician (1906), and a member of the American Water Color Society. Among his paintings are, Top of the Hill, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and East River Idyll, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Soren Emil Carlsen was an American Impressionist painter who emigrated to the United States from Denmark. He became known for his still lifes. Later in his career Carlsen expanded his range of subjects and becoming known for landscapes and marines as well.
The California Art Club (CAC) is one of the oldest and most active arts organizations in California. Founded in December 1909, it celebrated its centennial in 2009 and into the spring of 2010. The California Art Club originally evolved out of The Painters Club of Los Angeles, a short-lived group that lasted from 1906–09. The new organization was more inclusive, as it accepted women, sculptors and out of state artists. Most of the major early California painters belonged to the CAC, including Franz Bischoff (1864–1929), Carl Oscar Borg (1879–1947), Edgar Payne (1883–1947), Julia Bracken Wendt (1868–1942), and William Wendt (1865–1946). As the members of the first generation of California Plein-Air Painters aged and died, the membership was filled by younger professional painters, including Millard Sheets (1907–1989), Mabel Alvarez (1891–1985), Emil Kosa, Jr. (1903–1968), and watercolorist Rex Brandt (1914–2000), along with amateur painters and commercial artists. Other notable members include Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965), Dean Cornwell (1892–1960), Nicolai Fechin (1881–1955), Sam Hyde Harris (1889–1977), Alfredo Ramos Martinez (1872–1946), and Richard Neutra (1892–1970).
Theodore Nikolai Lukits was a Romanian American portrait and landscape painter. His initial fame came from his portraits of glamorous actresses of the silent film era, but since his death, his Asian-inspired works, figures drawn from Hispanic California and pastel landscapes have received greater attention.
Robertson K. Mygatt or 'R.K.', (1861–1919) was an American landscape painter and etcher working at the turn of the 20th century. He is often associated with the Tonalist movement which was being experimented with in painting during most of his active years, having emerged as a movement in the 1880s that continued through about 1915. R. K. Mygatt was born in New York City in 1861, where he studied at the Art Students League of New York with noted landscape artist John Henry Twachtman and American impressionist painter William Merritt Chase. He also studied painting in Europe.
Arny Karl was one of the key artists in the early stages of the California Plein-Air Revival, which started in the 1980s and continues to this day. Along with Tim Solliday and Peter Seitz Adams, Karl helped revitalize the use of pastels to paint outdoors or en plein air, as the French described regarding the practice of working directly from nature. Karl was a student of Theodore Lukits (1897–1992), who was a prominent California Impressionist and the best known Early California painter to have worked in pastel. His work has been included in a number of museum exhibitions, is represented in a number of prominent public and private collections and has been the subject of a number of curatorial essays.
Peter Seitz Adams is an American artist. His body of work focuses on landscapes and seascapes created en plein air in oil or pastel as well as enigmatic figure and still-life paintings. He is noted for his colorful, high-key palette and broad brushwork. Adams has held numerous solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums, including throughout California, the Western United States, and on the East Coast in Philadelphia, Vermont, and New York. Adams is the longest serving President of the California Art Club and has served on its board of directors in Pasadena, California from 1993 to 2018. He is also a writer on subjects relating to historic artists for the California Art Club Newsletter, as well as for a number of the organization's exhibition catalogs.
The terms California Impressionism and California Plein-Air Painting describe the large movement of 20th century California artists who worked out of doors, directly from nature in California, United States. Their work became popular in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California in the first three decades after the turn of the 20th century. Considered to be a regional variation on American Impressionism, the painters of the California Plein-Air School are also described as California Impressionists; the terms are used interchangeably.
Christian von Schneidau (1893–1976) was a well known California portrait painter who was recognized for his paintings of Hollywood stars and the Los Angeles elite. During the Roaring Twenties he painted Mary Pickford and other figures from the film industry as well as a number of outdoor figures done in the classic American Impressionist manner. Von Schneideau was born in Ljungby, Kalmar County, Sweden 1893, with the name Bror Christian Valdemar Von Schneidau, but went by the shortened Christian von Schneidau. In addition to his portraiture, von Schneidau was also a landscape painter and a private teacher who passed on the French principles of instruction, which he learned at the Art Institute of Chicago to his students. Von Schneidau was also the founder of the Scandinavian-American Art Society in 1938 and served as its president for many years. He was also an active member of the California Art Club.
Tim Solliday is a contemporary California Plein-Air Painter and Western Artist who is known for his San Gabriel Valley landscapes and his paintings of American Indians and other western subjects. He studied with the California Impressionist portrait and landscape painter Theodore Lukits (1897–1992) in the 1970s and began working professionally in the early 1980s. Solliday is described as a painter with a "muscular, masculine style" and has been compared to artists of the Taos Ten, especially E. Martin Hennings. He is a Signature Member of the California Art Club. He exhibits with the Laguna Plein-Air Painters Association, the Oil Painters of America and at the Maynard Dixon Invitational, which is held in Utah each year. Solliday's work has been featured in a number of American art magazines such as Southwest Art, American Artist and Art of the West. Through his plein-air work in the pastel medium and large canvasses, he has played an important role in the revival of landscape painting in Southern California.
California Tonalism was art movement that existed in California from circa 1890 to 1920. Tonalist are usually intimate works, painted with a limited palette. Tonalist paintings are softly expressive, suggestive rather than detailed, often depicting the landscape at twilight or evening, when there is an absence of contrast. Tonalist paintings could also be figurative, but in them, the figure was usually out of doors or in an interior in a low-key setting with little detail.
Richard E. Miller was an American Impressionist painter and a member of the Giverny Colony of American Impressionists. Miller was primarily a figurative painter, known for his paintings of women posing languidly in interiors or outdoor settings. Miller grew up in St. Louis, studied in Paris, and then settled in Giverny. Upon his return to America, he settled briefly in Pasadena, California and then in the art colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he remained for the rest of his life. Miller was a member of the National Academy of Design in New York and an award winning painter in his era, honored in both France and Italy, and a winner of France's Legion of Honor. Over the past several decades, he has been the subject of a retrospective exhibition and his work has been reproduced extensively in exhibition catalogs and featured in a number of books on American Impressionism.
Decorative Impressionism is an art historical term that is credited to the art writer Christian Brinton, who first used it in 1911. Brinton titled an article on the American expatriate painter Frederick Carl Frieseke, one of the members of the famous Giverny Colony of American Impressionists, "The Decorative Impressionist."
Edmund H. Wuerpel was an American Tonalist painter and an important art educator who was head of the Washington University School of Fine Arts for many years. He was also a friend of James Allen McNeil Whistler who helped spread the influence of the "Tonal School" in the Midwest. Wuerpel also played an important role in the development of Orthodontics, collaborating with the "first great teacher of orthodontia" Edward Angle and lecturing in the Midwest and western United States on aesthetics and Orthodontics.
Allen Butler Talcott was an American landscape painter. After studying art in Paris for three years at Académie Julian, he returned to the United States, becoming one of the first members of the Old Lyme Art Colony in Connecticut. His paintings, usually landscapes depicting the local scenery and often executed en plein air, were generally Barbizon and Tonalist, sometimes incorporating elements of Impressionism. He was especially known and respected for his paintings of trees. After eight summers at Old Lyme, he died there at the age of 41.