Why do some artists use narrow tonal ranges in their paintings? What is the advantage?

Some examples:

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One art writer I read writes that a narrow tonal range produces a "metaphysical" feel to the painting.

Interested in your thoughts.

  • Starving Artist Theory : can't afford the whole paint set. – Henry Taylor Jan 3 '19 at 15:11
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    Why do some artists paint landscapes and others paint still lives? – rebusB Jan 4 '19 at 16:20

This is partially opinion-based, obviously, but there are some reasons I can think of:

  • Expression.
    Even though this is seemingly a very broad (but by far the major) justification, the point is that the range of the colour palette naturally conveys a different meaning. Morandi's work, for example, emphasizes composition and division of the flat surface rather than objects in space, and has a poetic, meditative atmosphere.
    At the art academy, I was once told about a very crude division of painters in colorists (Matisse, Dufy, Seurat, as well as Del Sarto, El Greco, Vermeer, ..: artists that use colour to express themselves) and tonalists (like Morandi, but also Munch, Titian, the Barbizon and Hague School artists, Rembrandt, ..: artists that use tonal values as a means of expression), and in this limited division Morandi would be an obvious proponent of the latter.
    Tightly linked with this, but something to consider independently nonetheless, is expression through character, or just personal taste. We usually think of expression in painting (and the visual arts) as something deliberate, a purposeful charging of an artwork with premeditated values that guide the spectator, but often these limitations or abundances of colours are just personal preference (which still say a lot about the world view of the artist, and therefore usually their artistic intent, of course).
  • Stage of the work.
    The first image you posted looks more like a rudimentary stage of the work than calculated artistic expression. As a preparatory stage, underpainting (or grisaille) using earth tones or greys was (and is) a very common method to decide on tonal values and composition of the envisioned work while the underlying drawing is made and still can be worked on. Breughel, Christ and the Woman taken in adultery, 1565. Example image of underpainting, from the Wikipedia article
  • Condition of the work.
    This goes beyond the intent of your question, I guess, but often the range of colours and tones can be radically changed through ageing (see image below), hazardous atmospheric conditions, or bad restoration. Quality and application of ground, paint, varnish, and the nature of the support are also things to consider here. For example, the background of Vermeer's Girl with Pearl Earring used to be a saturated dark green, existing of an organic yellow ('schijtgeel') that completely got lost throughout the ages. Photograph of partially restorated painting, showing the tonal difference and that in colour between both stages
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