What Is Tonalism? (12 Essential Characteristics)
David Adams Cleveland
Private Collection, New Jersey
A Tonalist painter of coastal scenes, Henry Snell is commonly associated with the New Hope, Pennsylvania school of landscape painting, but in his early career he was a major figure in the New York art world—a crucial organizer of the American contingent at the Paris Universelle Exhibition of 1900—and a tireless experimenter in watercolor. Drawn to the picturesque inlets of Cornwall and Maine, Snell adopted many of James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s formal strategies, using muted tonalities to create fascinating pattern-structures: intricate and intimate compositions that dramatized the interplay of natural shapes. Snell’s paintings, especially his early work, have a subtle two-dimensional quality that he achieved by flattening his forms and composing them into a semi-abstract jigsaw of painterly elements. Snell captured the overall sensory experience of picturesque scenes with his deft hand; his boat-filled harbors pulse with the soft atmospheric light of late afternoon or early evening.