The Dorsky Brings a Movement Out of the Shadows

On Friday, Sept. 6 and Saturday, Sept 7., the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art hosted events for Karen Quinn’s gallery, “Tonalism: Pathway from the Hudson River School to Modern Art,” including a gallery talk and public reception. 

Quinn is a Senior Historian and Curator of Art and Culture at the New York State Museum. Her gallery displayed an array of artists and mediums, including late-nineteenth-century landscape painter George Inness and early-twentieth-century etching artist Margery Ryerson. 

Tonalism emerged in the 1880s when artists began to use more neutral colors in landscape paintings. These muted yet beautiful color palettes were present in almost all of the “Tonalism” gallery pieces. In the Tonalist movement there was “an exploration of very subtle ranges of color,” Quinn said in her talk on Friday. 

“It could be about light, it could be about color relationships. It could be very subtle in terms of composition.” In curating these pieces, Quinn hoped that patrons would be moved by the paintings, though they don’t have the bright sunlight and the deep shadows typical of Impressionism. Since the Tonalist movement is one that is only-researched by pockets of art historians and curators, the gallery at the Dorsky celebrates a lesser-known movement. 

The gallery showcased the transition from The Hudson River School to Modern Art and Tonalist artists’ place in this transition. Quinn points out that “many of these artists started as Hudson River School Painters, and after the Civil War, that approach was seen as perhaps not in their best interest—maybe a little old fashioned.” After the Civil War, the bright, pastoral optimism of Hudson River School art may not have seemed relevant to what was happening in our country. 

“After reconstruction, there was a need for something inward-feeling,” Quinn said. “Something emotional, not glorified and spiritual, but not necessarily religious. People needed something for their souls.” 

The “Tonalism” exhibit showcased a little-known school of artists and their individual interpretations of landscape work. “Much about Tonalism looks forward to Modernism,” reads a blurb in the gallery guide. This is why Quinn and her colleagues organized the Dorsky Gallery not in chronological order, but by schools of artists and their influences. The exhibit had distinct sections; one with Hudson River School artists, another with artists who worked in the Woodstock area, and another portion displaying pieces that showcased the “bridge” between Tonalism and Modernism. 

        “When you look at these [paintings] when you’re a curator…you choose them and see them in their home institutions or private collections, and you think you’re going to have a good idea of what they’re going to look like,” Quinn said. “But you are always amazed when it all gets pulled together.” 

        And the exhibit truly does look amazing—on display are paintings of familiar local sites such as the Shawangunk Mountains and Catskill Clove. The colors of the paintings are subtle yet enrapturing, and their blend creates interesting and textured landscapes. If you are a resident of the Hudson Valley region interested in learning more about our artistic history, this Tonalism Gallery is a must-see. 

You can visit the expertly-curated gallery at The Dorsky. “Tonalism: Pathway from the Hudson River School to Modern Art” will be on display in the Morgan Anderson Gallery and Howard Greenberg Family Gallery until Dec. 8, 2019.

Dani Walpole
About Danielle Walpole 28 Articles
Dani Walpole is a fourth-year Digital Media Production and English: Creative Writing major. This is her first semester on The Oracle. She also serves as the Public Affairs Director for WFNP, and has previously written for Reader’s Digest.