In Part 2 of my investigation of the Tonalist art Of George Inness , Thomas Dewing and William Merrit Chase I will continue exploring further their contribution to American Art. I will first start with Chase who is commented on in the Art Book.
” Like the Impressionists Chase used loose brush work and pastel colours to portray the World around him”. .
” The informality of his subjects and the rigour with which he painted them maybe particularly North American characteristic but they have been reflected into an essentially European style”. .
The Art book continues to argue that one of the major influences for Chase was Whistler.
” Chase worked in North America throughout his long and active career. he was particularly influenced by James Mcneil Whistler”. .
Ann Lee Morgan in her Dictionary of American artists shows how Chase incorporated Impressionism and a study of the old masters.
” His bravura technique incorporating old Master and Impressionist practices set the pace among progressive late 19th Century American Painters”. .
Morgan continuing her assessment of Chase shows how Chase was different in the way he used his palette striving towards the aesthetic.
” For some years his (Chase’s) carefully constructed artistic personality epitomised the American notion of the aesthetic life”. .
” In addition during a long and influential teaching career he encouraged such outstanding younger painters as Georgia O’Keefe and Charles Sheeler to develop individual forms of expression”. .
O’Keefe and Sheeler would begin in their art of Precisionism to merge figurative with abstract forms. I will explore them in a future posting.
” He deepened his long standing respect for the art of Velasquez and Frans Hals but elsewhere he absorbed the latest artistic trends. In Paris he was driven to impressionism, and admired the work of john Singer Sargent”. .
” Case’s most clearly Impressionist work dates from the 1890’s. Beginning in 1891 12 consecutive summers teaching in Eastern Ling Island at his own school presented the opportunity to respond to sunlight and rolling sea”. .
Morgan now comes to discuss the artistic merits of George Inness.
” A landscape specialist he created harmonious broadly painted views of domesticated scenery. His work fostered the shift in taste from the detailed realism of the Mid 19th Century Hudson River school to a more ambiguous subjective and aesthetically orientated form preferred later”. .
” His paintings correlate also with important artistic and intellectual tendencies of his age including Barbizon painting , Impressionism ,Symbolism ,Tonalism and philosophical rumination on the psychological relationship between material existence and inner experience”.
In that sense Inness like a number of painters took up subjective Idealism as a philosophical method to adopt in his paintings. Many idealists who believe in the spirit force have had their theories blown apart as false idealistic constructions. The great Materialist Fredrick Engels together with Karl Marx would prove that in Philosophy Materialism is the true real solution to man’s and Nature’s existence as Many realist painters have shown.
” In 1853 he again headed for Europe this time to work in France where his development advanced sharply as he absorbed Barbizon techniques”. .
” In 1870 Inness again sailed to Europe stopping in London and Paris before settling in Rome. Bringing his previous experience to bear on the Italian Landscape. Unprecedented in its daringly abstracted forms and colours and its darkly and ambiguous impact (The Monk)”. .
In her last commentary on Inness Morgan shows how he delved into symphonic or harmonious flowing colours trying to reach this unattainable inner self.
” In paintings of his final decade Inness entered the realm of poetic mysteries dissolving nature’s details into symphonic harmonies of glowing colour, evoking rather recording ,woodland , interiors or other spaces of limited depth. Inness vehemently rebuffed any attempt to connect his work with Impressionism which he showed no interest in”. .
Turning now to Thomas Dewing Morgan depicts him as a more figurative painter than Inness particularly his depictions of women in different groups , his work could be called flowery and atmospheric. An Idealist painter like Inness although he did depict real images but coated them with mystical appearance as floating into space.
” A figurative specialist he is known particularly for his evocative depictions of languorous introspective women depicted singly in small groups inhabiting spare but atmospheric interiors or nebulous gardens”. .
” Dewing also painted portraits and a few outright allegories as well as interior decorations. A major figure in establishing Tonalism’s popularity he responded to aspects of Impressionism and Symbolism as well as to the aesthetic movement”. .
Morgan continues to show the important bridge Dewing provided between Inness’s realistic landscapes and Chase’s more Impressionist work.
” He continued to paint enigmatic works demonstrating mastery of academic figure construction”. .
Morgan suggests that during the latter part of his life Dewing may also have been influenced by Pre Raphaelite depictions with his flowery and evocative depictions of women which Rosetti and Millais favoured as well.
” Inspired by a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem of the same name depicts in pale tonalities a decorative frieze of Idealised young women in an outdoor setting suggesting the spirit of the late pre-Raphaelitism”. 
” During the 1890’s as he refined his mature subject matter and style he also worked in pastel and silverpoint demonstrating a technical facility that marked also his increasingly distinguished handling of oils”. .
Robert Atkins in his Art Spoke from 1848-1944 describes what Tonalist art is and what distinguishes it from other Art forms.
” Term describing Late 19th Century and early 20th Century American painting and photography characterised by harmonious colours vaguely defined forms , introspective moods and Romantic appreciation for nature , generally rejecting Scientific and materialist approaches to reality”..
This concludes my exploration of Tonalist art with an examination of William Chase’s incursion into Impressionism. These three artists created the development for American Renaissance painting of Albert Pinkham Ryder , John La Farge, Elihu Vedder and Robert Loftin Newman who I will consider in my forthcoming articles.
- THE ART BOOK PHAIDON PG .96
- THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS :ANN LEE MORGAN.PG.84
- DITTO PG.239
- ART SPOKE 1844-1948 ROBERT ATKINS .PG.487.