The Harbor Light
The Harbor Light

Image Resources | Currently on View in Andrew and Jane Paine Galleries (K212)

The Harbor Light

Birge Harrison (American, 1854-1929)

Harrison is identified with an American style called Tonalism.

In Tonalist paintings a single hue dominates the composition, which evokes the nuances of light and atmosphere.

The softened details and unpeopled terrain exhibit Tonalism’s quiet, meditative state.


Birge Harrison: Theorist and Practitioner of American Tonalism

Born in Philadelphia, Birge Harrison was briefly a farmer and a businessman. He turned to painting in 1876 and studied first at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then spent six years in Paris, where he enrolled at the École des Beaux Arts. He returned to New York and taught landscape painting at the Art Students League. Harrison concentrated almost exclusively on landscapes executed in the evocative manner of the Barbizon artists. He was a prolific writer on art, and in 1909, Harrison published Landscape Painting, which became the standard text for many years. In addition, he founded the art colony in Woodstock, New York.

In The Harbor Light, Harrison has muted contrast and softened sharp edges, suffusing the small house and shore in a somber atmosphere of shadow and dim light. He became identified with Tonalism, an American style influenced by the Barbizon painters and Whistler’s landscapes. In Tonalist paintings a single hue – often blue or gray – dominates the composition and related colors create a subtle chromatic range that evokes the nuances of light and atmosphere. The softened details and windswept terrain of The Harbor Light exhibit Tonalism’s quiet, meditative state.

Harrison, Birge. Landscape Painting. Originally published in 1909, London: Bibliofile Ltd., 2009.

Object Information

Birge Harrison (American, 1854-1929)
creation date
about 1900-1910
oil on canvas
24 x 30 in.
28-1/4 x 34-1/4 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Julius F. Pratt Fund
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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