What Is Tonalism? (12 Essential Characteristics)
David Adams Cleveland
Illustrated and discussed in A History of American Tonalism, p. 332.
Frederick Kost’s Tonalist landscapes are never far from the sea, encompassing the tidal marshlands of his early home on Staten Island, and after 1900, the stretches of inlets and wetlands of Long Island’s Great South Bay. But in Kost’s work the subjects are less about place and more about the spirit of place, where worn paths meander and the harvest awaits gathering. Kost’s more expressive mature work, especially his smaller sketchy paintings on wood panel, displayed a pronounced gestural handing of pigment, focused more on symbolic form: tree shapes, meandering stream banks, and cloud formations that often approach two-dimensional design. This simplification further enhanced the artist’s sumptuous vibrant surface tonalities, with which he attempted to translate emotional states into paint, in the vein of his personal idol, George Inness.