The Artist’s Response to Nature: Tonalism, Historical and Contemporary

Bringing together contemporary artists with historical masters

American Tonalism emerged in the 1880s as a response to European Romanticism. Drawing from both the Naturalist and Neo-Classical traditions, Tonalism continued the practice of drawing from the landscape, but with a focus on creating emotionally evocative works.

The Artist’s Response to Nature: Tonalism, Historical and Contemporary brings together contemporary artists with historical masters, offering viewers connections between historical and contemporary works, and showcasing how artists working today are finding new and personal ways to express the Tonalist aesthetic.

“The American tradition of Tonalism valued solitude in the contemplation of nature. Tonalist paintings bring colors together that are finely attuned to the subject matter in such a way as to create a thoroughly harmonious image. From modern Tonalist painters back to their predecessors, all share a common thread which is the belief that an image should be felt as well as seen, invoking a poetic and meditative state that is Romantic at its core,” says artist, educator and PAFA faculty member Douglas Martenson (Cert. ’82), who curated the show.

Exhibiting unique styles and varying subject matter, PAFA faculty and alumni represented in this exhibition include Al Gury (Cert. ’76), K. Malcolm Richards, Christine Lafuente (Cert. ’95), Stuart Shils (Cert. ’82), and Kurt Solmssen (Cert. ’82). Other artists represented are Randall Exon, Wolf Kahn, Ann Lofquist, Jeffrey Reed, Seymour Remenick, and Louis Sloan.

Historical masters featured in the exhibition include Charles Warren Eaton, Edward B. Gay, Robert Swain Gifford, Birge Harrison, George Inness, John Francis Murphy, Henry Ward Ranger, and Alexander Helwig Wyant.

“The value of Tonalism today may in fact lie in this embrace of art for art’s sake, with its poetic simplicity, evocative mood, and pictorial absorption. The world of the contemporary viewer is just as complex and volatile as that of the last turn of the century, and these painters offer us the opportunity to pause and reflect so that we might not simply reconsider beauty, but also appreciate it,” says Todd Keyser, Assistant Director at Gross McCleaf Gallery and a contributor to the exhibition catalogue.

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