Tonal Painting

AGOMakes From Home: Inspired by the AGO Collection

Agnes Martin, The Rose

Agnes Martin, The Rose

Agnes Martin, The Rose, 1964. Oil, red and black pencil, sizing on canvas. Purchase with assistance from Wintario, 1979. © Art Gallery of Ontario.


Creating optical illusions

In her work The Rose, Canadian artist Agnes Martin draws a delicate grid of red and black pencil lines on an ivory canvas. When viewed up close, the work appears to give off a rosy pink glow.

This story, shared by Arne Glimcher, an American art dealer and friend of the artist, reveals Martin’s inspiration behind The Rose:

Agnes had a tiny little garden of roses in front of her door […] I remember once there was a very beautiful rose in a bud vase and my granddaughter Isabel was looking at it. Agnes took the rose out of the vase and she said to Isabel, ‘Is this rose beautiful?’ And then Agnes put the rose behind her back and said, ‘Is the rose still beautiful?’

So the beauty is not the rose, the beauty is within you and the rose just makes you recognize that beauty.


Grids are a network of lines that cross each other to form a series of squares or rectangles. They appear in everyday objects as well as, occasionally, artwork. What grids can you find in your home or in the world?

A game board for checkers, a crossword puzzle or a gingham shirt? One might also think of Manhattan's urban street grid, a plan that allows people to easily navigate the metropolis by counting the streets up from the bottom of the island. Someone else might think of window screens that keep mosquitoes and others insects out.

Watch AGO Manager of Strategic Projects Deborah Nolan make her own tonal painting inside a grid, using the colours blue and red inspired by Agnes Martin's The Rose. Her activity, framed by the grid she has created, provides a sense of calmness through the repetition of making brush marks. Make your own tonal painting inside a grid using paints, water, pencil and paper.



Watch Paola Poletto, Director, Engagement & Learning, and Kenneth Brummel, Associate Curator, Modern Art, discuss the presence of grids of all sizes in art and everyday life. In this video, they examine Agnes Martin's work on canvas called The Rose, taking their observations to make a from home tonal project using raspberries, blueberries and cookie dough.

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