Tonalism was art movement that existed in California from circa 1890 to 1920. Tonalist are usually intimate works, painted with a limited palette. Tonalist paintings are softly expressive, suggestive rather than detailed, often depicting the landscape at twilight or evening, when there is an absence of contrast. Tonalist paintings could also be figurative, but in them, the figure was usually out of doors or in an interior in a low-key setting with little detail.
Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens (detail), circa 1890
Toward the end of his life, Ryder lived alone in his New York apartment, where he would continually re-work his paintings. Some of his paintings show signs of being varnished and re-painted over the course of a decade. Sometimes what began as a figurative painting became something more tonal and abstract over time.