Eight Pounds of Tonalism Hits the Sidewalk

A History of American Tonalism,1880-1920, David Cleveland
A History of American Tonalism,1880-1920, David Cleveland

Once again the doorbell rang after dark. The lack of sunlight and the time of year made it seem appropriate that it was the UPS delivery person bringing a copy of David Cleveland’s new book A History of American Tonalism,1880-1920. After-all, it’s never morning in a tonalist painting, and never Spring.

I could hear it make a thump when the box hit the concrete just before the doorbell rang. It’s a monumental work, almost 600 pages, that has been almost ready for the printer for more than a year. We met up with Cleveland last year at the American Art Fair in New York. My pre-order already placed, the book was not yet ready, he said.

The History of American Tonalism is the first definitive account of the tonalist movement that galvanized America’s artistic life in the decades around 1900. The book presents the works of sixty of America’s finest artists, in concert with the voices of Emerson, Thoreau, John Burroughs, William James and the finest critics of the period.

In addition to Inness, Whistler, La Farge, Wyant, J. Francis Murphy and the better-known tonalists, the book takes a look at sixty lesser known but highly talented artists. The book even reaches forward to the “post-modern” tonalists like Wolf Kahn.

Of course, there hasn’t been time to read it yet, but by perusing the pages, it appears many, and we can probably safely say most of the images are from private collections or galleries.

David A. Cleveland is an art historian, independent curator, critic, and novelist.

I took the book to the bathroom scale; it seems to weigh about eight pounds, more than several of our cats.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage.

When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city.

With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s.

The result will be a book with a video component.

We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.


I have the book, too, but I don’t know how to read it. It’s too heavy to page through while seated. The author’s premise is that close to fifty of America’s best artists have “fallen into near total obscurity.” They may remain in the dark unless the book becomes available on an easy-to-handle e-reader.

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