An End to Mourning

The true use of art is to cultivate the artist’s own spiritual nature.

— George Inness

The 19th century American art movement known as Tonalism celebrated gentle tones, soft edges, atmosphere, and “the reality of the unseen.”

Americans fell in love with it in the aftermath of the Civil War, turning away from the Tonalists only after the arrival onshore of “modernists” like Duchamp, Bonnard and Picasso.

With a body count nearing that of “The American Conflict,” it’s time we embrace Tonalism again—and put an end to mourning.

The founder of Tonalism, George Inness, used to baffle critics by including poems with his paintings.

But Inness knew what he was doing.

His poems, like his paintings, were meant to inspire you to contemplate “the invisible in the visible,” the cosmic harmonies behind everyday things—harmonies to which the Americans of his day had grown cold.

Innes’ Emersonian poem “Exaltation” is but one compelling example:

Sing joyfully!

Earth-bound no more,
We rise.
Creation speaks anew
In brighter tones.
Life now enthrones
Its imaged forms,
Winged with a joy that
Ne’er from nature grew.

Sing joyfully!

The Lord has come.
We live.
Released, the spirit flies,
Robed with the light
Above earth’s night,
A symphony.
We sweep along in song that never dies.

Sing joyfully!

Bright nature lives in us.
Thought, sight, and sound,
Mind all are one.
To gentle souls
We whisper thought echoes of loves profound.

Sing joyfully !

George Innes, Spring Blossoms Montclair

Life’s sympathies
Speak truth.
Doubts but disease.
Resurrection is affection,
Spirit wakening,
From earth’s tides to voyage o’er brighter seas.

Sing joyfully!

I a real world we see.
Earth’s meadows and its hills
Within thy heart
Their joys impart
To us as well as thee.

Sing joyfully!

God all space fills.

Above: Jug and Book. Oil on canvas board. 8 x 10 inches. Ships framed and ready to hang.

George Innes, 1890