Quaker Ridge

Charles M. Dewey

(Lowville, New York, 1849 - 1937, New York)

c. 1916

Oil on canvas

19 1/8 in. x 25 1/8 in. (48.58 cm x 63.82 cm)

Bequest of Edwin C. Shaw


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Dewey said of Quaker Ridge: “I consider this painting a representative work and among my best . . . it seems to me to have a spirit of evening and a voice of its own. Words are not in my line and quite unnecessary in this case.” The artist’s belief that words are superfluous for understanding reflects one of the central precepts of Tonalist aesthetics, that anecdotal and literary subjects should be replaced by harmonious arrangements of colors and forms which would directly evoke emotional states or moods. Instead of slavishly imitating nature, the Tonalists considered themselves interpreters of nature orchestrating its forms and colors like the notes of a musical composition. Whistler was a major influence on this aesthetic. “As music is the poetry of sound,” Whistler declared, “so is painting the poetry of sight, and subject-matter has nothing to do with the harmony of sound or of color.” However, Dewey, along with many other Tonalists, did not accept Whistler’s concept of “art for art’s sake.” The arrangement of colors and forms in Quaker Ridge is intended to express the artist’s personal response to the subject. Dewey has organized the painting around a cool, monochromatic palette carefully modulated and delicately applied to unite earth and sky into a soft, dream-like image. A cluster of houses at the left refers to a human presence existing in harmony with nature. Trees and other objects, bathed with veils of gentle color, create a mood of quiet, reverent contemplation. These were qualities which nineteenth-century American landscape painters associated with the sublime and the presence of God in nature. Quaker Ridge is thus representative of the romantic, elevated mood of Tonalist painting. It confronts the modern, mechanical age of science and technology with an idealistic, anti-materialist aesthetic which celebrates poetic feeling and the human spirit. -William Robinson, The Edwin C. Shaw Collection


Signed LL: "Charles Melville Dewey"