I’ve probably mentioned my great affection for Tonalism, an expressive style of landscape painting which emerged in the 1880s. Among others, artists such as George Inness, Ralph Albert Blakelock, Albert Pinkham Ryder and John H. Twachtman all painted works representative of this particular style, and I encourage you to look them up—particularly if you enjoy moody landscapes. Often regarded as the American answer to the French Barbizon style, Tonalism is typically associated with dark, neutral hues and soft brushwork.
I want to emphasize the soft brushwork because it stands contrary to that exhibited in today’s piece, Sir William Quiller Orchardson’s On the North Foreland, an outdoor scene which caught my attention on account of its incredible flatness. Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s a beautiful painting, and despite my long-standing admiration for Tonalism’s soft values, Orchardson’s coarse, draughtsman-like rendering of his figure and landscape has me intrigued. All the elements are executed with the same thin brush technique, an effect which provides this work a unique sketch-like quality; the folds of the young woman’s dress, the rocks found at the cliff, the grass and trees, and the body of water seen in the distance are all unified by Orchardson’s crisp line. Not one variable in Foreland appears soft, effectively cancelling out any depth of field. Even the clouds feel a bit gravelly—which is quite an accomplishment.
Orchardson was a Scottish painter known for his domestic scenes and historical subjects. Using his The First Cloud as an example, his technique seems well-suited for spacious interior views, but as stated earlier, it’s unusual to see it applied to landscapes. Whatever the case, Foreland is wonderful scene, conveying our subject’s serenity with the natural elements. I really sense some volume to that gust of wind tousling her dress as she holds back her hat to keep it from blowing away, and despite her rigid outline she nonetheless appears buoyant and relaxed. Odd, yet compellingly beautiful.