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 George Inness  (1825 - 1894)

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts / Scotland      Known for: Landscape and some marine-coastal painting

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George Inness
from Auction House Records.
SUNSET ON THE RIVER
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"George Inness and the Visionary Landscape" at the National Academy of Design

Submitted By RAYMOND J. STEINER and written for ART TIMES October 2003

AS WITH ANY artist worthy of the title, George Inness (18251894) is not easily summed up. Often associated with the Hudson River School, he was, in fact, aesthetically in opposition to the large, detailed canvases which characterized the work of such painters as Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), two major representative painters of that group.  Others see him as a transplanted member of the French Barbizon School, more in tune with their less grandiose, more intimate landscapes of homely, domesticated scenes of rural France. Still others as the title of this exhibition* indicates see him as a visionary theorist, painting dreamy landscapes fraught with symbolic messages and meanings.  And, like any artist, these and many other attempts at pigeonholing might well fit part of the man and his work.

However, few serious artists few persons for that matter are simple creatures, one-dimensional beings whose creative output reflect one vision, one style, one statement.  The current exhibition of approximately 40 of Inness' paintings at the National Academy of Design Museum in New York City offers an opportunity to reassess both the man and his work.

In spite of the emphasis on his "visionary" propensities that this exhibition sets forth, by all accounts George Inness was a man of many faces. Hailed by his contemporaries as the greatest landscape painter of his time, his colleagues and peers seem generally to have nothing but high praise for him and there were in fact a great many moved to record their opinions for posterity. Although generally laudatory, even a casual glance would reveal no one-sided view of Inness. Complex, deeply spiritual, dedicated to his chosen life as a painter, Inness was still worldly enough to enjoy his status as America's "greatest" painter of landscapes and to know how to further his career. Obviously respected as both painter and teacher, one is yet left with an elusive portrait of the man behind the public persona.

Although often characterized as self-taught, George Inness cultivated his natural talents for depiction by close observation and careful study of the masters his contemporaries as well as those from the past.  An inherent love of nature seems to have automatically drawn him to landscape painting and, indeed, if the few figures, which appear in the present exhibition, are any indication, the depiction of the human form was not his forte. Though we may attribute this to some intentional purpose connected with his "spiritual" predilections, when included they are summarily sketched in, seldom given the same amount of attention to detail as found, say, in his renditions of trees, or fields, or bodies of water.  Though, a "people person" to his students and colleagues, Inness, at least when it came to his art, appears to have felt much more at home when dealing with the non-human elements of nature.

At first attracted to and influenced by the Hudson River School of artists (a fact borne out by his early work), he soon found their over-blown, generalized views of the American landscape foreign to his own bent.  A study-trip to Europe where he could view the masters at first hand and especially to see the work of the small band of landscape artists summering at Barbizon opened a way for him to make a more personal statement about landscape.  Particularly impressed with the work of Jean Corot (1796-1875) and Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867), his paintings became less detailed, with deliberately loose brushstrokes and chiaroscuro blurring clear demarcations of distance, making it difficult to distinguish between foreground and background, sky and horizon, in his paintings.

A major break with his early Hudson River School tendencies was to paint a nature less untamed, less raw than that of Cole's, Albert Bierstadt's (1830-1902) or Church's America. Inness felt a need to show more human interaction with nature, a symbiotic relationship that would deepen into mystical significance when, in the 1860's, he came under the influence of Emanuel Swedenborg's (1688-1772) theosophical teachings especially that of his belief in the unity of God, Nature and Man.  Thomas Cole, the "father" of the Hudson River School, and his followers also attempted to show the hand of God in Nature, but it was a Divine Presence that revealed itself in sublime grandiosity rather than in any subtle and intimate connection with man. This was unacceptable to Inness who began to see Nature as the vital and mystical link between man and his Creator.  At first, his early canvases merely showed man's ingress into his natural surroundings: a farmhouse, cleared forestlands, or plowed fields.

In opposition to his Hudson River School contemporaries, he wanted to paint what he called "civilized" landscapes that showed both God's and man's hand working in tandem.  Later canvases would become less explicit, more amorphous, painted in a free style that would sometimes be called "poetic" by his fellows.  When human figures did appear they were only suggested, depicted as integral parts of nature rather than as intruders.  Who the figures were was less important than that they showed their belongingness their oneness with the landscape. It appears as if by making the figures "featureless" it would help him to blend them more easily into the inchoate swirl of Nature.)

Much has been written about Inness' Swedenborgian mysticism a great deal, in fact, by the painter himself leaving many with the impression of an introspective, ethereal man who mooned around the countryside. Yet, as Nicolai Cikovsky once wrote in an essay entitled "George Inness: Sense of Sensibility," Inness "smoked cigars, drank (sometimes even to excess), swore, and struggled to control his 'carnal lusts' and 'sensual appetites."**

He was, in short, a man completely equipped (and handicapped) with all that that term implies. As "mystical" as you may feel that a belief in the unity between God, Man and Nature is, Inness was far from some dreamy-eyed follower of the latest fad. Transcendentalism might have caught up the period's best minds (cf., e.g., Inness' contemporaries Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and their fellow Brahmins in New England) and the teachings of Swedenborg might have been right up their alley, but Inness appears to have accepted little at face value especially when it came to his painting. If he eschewed the finicky detail so dear to the Hudson River School, he was equally disdainful of Impressionism with its ever-threatening impulse to lose detail altogether.

He wanted to paint landscapes that were neither literal transcriptions nor indistinguishable blobs of color. What he strove for were paintings that avoided "thought alone or of feeling alone" and attempted to produce canvases that revealed a combination of "will and understanding" (from a letter by Inness to Ripley Hitchcock dated March 23, 1884).  Stated otherwise, his vaunted mysticism never quite overshadowed his logical faculties.  Perhaps more important than what he learned from the Barbizons insofar as painting landscapes was concerned, was his absorption of French rationality their ability to combine thought and feeling, allowing the "opposites" to temper each other.

Inness' real soul-mates in painting God-filled (God-suggesting might better fit his stated intent) landscapes are perhaps to be found neither in France nor America but in Germany, in such 18th/19th century romantics as Philipp Otto Runge (1777-1810) and Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). Although there is little similarity between Inness' and Runge's landscapes, that German artist's belief in the unity of God, Man and Nature and especially his color theories wherein he ascribes to each hue a symbolic significance, might have afforded both artists many hours of fruitful conversation. Inness himself often expounded on his own color theories to his students and, in essence, they did not markedly differ from those of Runge. With Friedrich on the other hand, it is when we compare their paintings that we discover common ground few would question the attribution of Friedrich's name, for instance, to Inness' "Christmas Eve" (1866), a dark, moody and foreboding picture that could well have flowed from the great German Romantic's brush.

Another similarity the two artists share was their propensity to show only the backs of figures as they melded into the landscape, both artists emphasizing man's essential oneness with Nature rather than his personal distinction from Her.  Even more telling, however, is Friedrich's purposeful disregard for linear persepctive, obfuscating distance much as did Inness, and his non-naturalistic handling of color, again, a common practice of Inness.

Recollections of Inness and comparisons of his work with others notwithstanding no matter how factual or relevant the artist must ultimately be understood and judged by the body of work left behind. The present exhibition handsomely presented and hung in several galleries offers an opportunity to do just that. It was as a painter (and not as a spiritual theorist), however, that Inness built his reputation and it was his preferred medium of expression. Over and above anything else, what is expressed is his love or rather his reverence for Nature.

Whatever the style and the exhibition covers the whole range of his career, from the 1850's to the 1890's one is struck by his struggle to capture the essence of what Nature meant to him. If his brushstroke remains unremarkable (no overuse of heavily laid-on impasto though used to good effect in "Moonrise" (1888) no flourishing signature), one gradually sees a loosening of the wrist, a studied attempt to suggest rather than to delineate in short, a conscious move to be a painter rather than a draftsman. He claimed not to want to paint the "hieroglyphs" of Nature but to attempt a depiction of its impact on his (our) senses. It had to be "real" enough to recognize as landscape, yet "vague" enough to suggest its Divine source. In his words,

"When John saw the vision of the Apocalypse, he saw it. He did not see emasculation, or weakness, or gaseous representation. He saw things, and those things represented an idea." So much for the airy-fairy. He wanted his landscapes to be seen as landscapes yet understood as Divine revelations. For this viewer, he pulled it off most of the time. It is difficult not to experience the quiet majesty of such paintings as "Hackensack Meadows, Sunset" (1859) or The Huntsman (1859) or Summer, Montclair (New Jersey Landscape) (1891).  Pictures such as Sunset Glow (1883), The Home of the Heron (1893), and Sunset at Montclair (1892) his so-called "Tonalist" paintings are, for me, less convincing as manifestations of the Divine than they are as examples of mood pieces, reflective more of man i.e., George Inness than of God.

One of the ironies, it seems to me, is that if Inness was attempting to show his viewers the essential link between man and nature that he did so less with his "visionary" paintings what we might term his "inscapes" than he did with his more straightforward renditions of the American landscape. For this viewer, the less accessible a picture is i.e. indistinct the less I am able to be drawn into its "message" thus, if I am meant to see myself as part of the trinity of God, man and Nature, I am effectively shut out by a so-called Inness "visionary" painting. At no time, however, do I experience a false note, a dishonesty in Inness' attempts at sharing his vision not even in his somewhat "stagy" dramas of orange sunsets (though I would make an exception with the cloyingly histrionic The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1867)).  Inness had a supreme sense of composition and an uncanny ability to render aerial perspective. His "atmospheres" can often seem actually moisture-laden, tangibly "there."  And though he sometimes played fast and loose with local color (undoubtedly part of his color theory), somehow the very unreality of the hues lends them a truth that escapes logic.

Yet, total reliance on the pictures as avenues of access to the artist can also be dangerous. As Cikovsky points out in the essay quoted above, too many have taken the unfinished late paintings found in his studio as mature and finished products, basing unfounded assumptions and deductions on them.  Although many of these might fit one's pre-conceived conception of Inness as a spiritualist or, God forbid!, even a pre-cursor of modernist abstraction one cannot fairly make judgments on unfinished canvases.  This is especially true of a painter like Inness who deemed "unfinished" many canvases that he did allow to leave his studio, at times tracking them down into buyer's houses to make additional changes and additions.  An inveterate tinkerer, he felt no qualms about "touching up" the canvases of students and colleagues as well as those of his own, convinced that a few extra dabs and scumbles would improve them.  When we recall his disdain of paintings that he called "intellectual dishwater" or "gaseous representation," we can well imagine his assessment of his own unfinished canvases and what he may think of those who claim them as his "mature" work.

But there are enough paintings here to make your own judgments.  At bottom, whether or not you find God in Inness' paintings will depend on whether or not you can find Him (or Her) in yourself.

*George Inness and the Visionary Landscape (thru Dec 28): National Academy of Design Museum, 1083 Fifth Ave. at 89th St., NYC (212) 369-4880.  A catalogue of the same name by Adrienne Baxter Bell, and published by George Braziller, Inc. is available:

**(See catalogue for George Inness: Presence of the Unseen (A Centennial Commemoration): The Hudson River Museum of Westchester, Summer of 1995.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born on a farm near Newburgh, New York, George Inness had post-Civil War recognition for paintings that were unique in structure and atmosphere and that turned away from the dramatic, panoramic Hudson River School of painting to a quieter, tonalist expression of poetry in nature.  Among the Americans at Barbizon, France, he was the leading painter of that movement of early plein-air landscape painters.

He spent his youth in Newark, New Jersey.  His father, trying to discourage his obvious art talent, gave him at age 14 a grocery store to run.  But in 1841, at age 16, George left for New York and worked for a map engraver.  Impatient with supervision, he started to paint alone and exhibited with the National Academy in 1844.  He studied briefly in Brooklyn with Regis Gignoux,a French academic painter, and then went to Europe, something he continued to do often including two trips to Italy and France in the 1850s that much influenced his work.

In 1868, he was elected to the National Academy of Design in New York, and in 1891, was in Northern California where he shared a studio with William Keith and painted with him in Yosemite and Monterey.  He and Keith also shared a commitment to the philosophy of Swedenborg.  In 1892 and 1893, Inness and his wife traveled in Florida where he painted numerous landscapes.

His painting technique was elaborate.  He swiftly stained the surfaces of his canvases, and then sketched on them with charcoal and umber, a process that sometimes took more than a week.  He used opaque paint to bring out light and texture and then used glaze to tone it down.  The overall result were landscapes that combined tonalism and luminism, great contrast of light and dark.

Much of his life he was poor, and he also had chronic bouts of epilepsy, but in the later part of his life and posthumously, he earned a reputation as one of America's most talented painters.

Sources:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born near Newburgh, NY on May 1, 1825.  Inness grew up in Newark, NJ where he ran a grocery store with his father.  Other than brief study with an itinerant artist, he remained a self-taught artist. Two trips to Italy and France during the 1850s greatly influenced his future work.  In 1891 he spent several months in San Francisco where he painted in the studio of Wm Keith.  He and Keith painted in similar styles and both were influenced by the philosophy of Swedenborg.  The two artists sketched on the Monterey Peninsula and in Yosemite and co-exhibited at Rabjohn & Morcom's.  During his brief stay, Inness was  greatly honored by the San Francisco Art Ass'n.  A giant in American art, he died while visiting in Scotland on Aug. 3, 1894.  Exh:  NAD from 1844; American Art Union, 1845; SFAA, 1891; Mechanics' Inst. (SF), 1884; World's Columbian Expo (Chicago), 1893; PPIE, 1915.  In:  Oakland Museum; MM; Orange Co. (CA) Museum; most major U.S. museums.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Keith, Old Master of California (Brother Cornelius); George  Inness Landscapes, His Signature Years 1884-1894
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
George Inness was born on a farm near Newburg, New York, in 1825.  The artist showed an early aptitude for drawing as he grew up in New York City and in and around Newark, New Jersey.  At the age of thirteen he drew from reproductions provided by a sensitive schoolteacher.  He was afflicted with fits of epilepsy, a disease people feared and misunderstood, and he was somewhat frail.

In 1839, his father discouraged his artistic talents and gave Inness a grocery store to manage in an attempt to dissuade him from becoming a painter. Disgruntled working with food and the public, in 1841 Inness left home for New York City to work for Sherman and Smith as a map engraver by day and he taught himself to paint with oils by night.

At the age of 19, Inness exhibited a canvas at the National Academy.  In 1843, Inness studied for a short period in Brooklyn with Regis Francois Gignoux (1814-1882) who was known for snowy landscapes and views of Niagara Falls.  Inness finished an impressive 34 ½ x 49 ¼ inch pastoral view with oxen and figures set in an expansive New Jersey landscape titled Afternoon, 1846 (also Landscape-Afternoon) and exhibited the canvas at the 1846 American Art Union’s “Annual Exhibition” (no. 6) and possibly at the National Academy.

Historian Michael Quick (who is compiling the George Inness Catalogue Raisonné) wrote on November 9, 1999, “Afternoon ranks as one of the most beautiful and accomplished painting of Inness’s early period and it shows how talented a draftsman he was at an early age.  This canvas is very important to his history and to the history of American art.”  Pictures like 'Afternoon, 1846" and those painted through 1868 identify Inness with the Hudson River School.

The American Art Union helped promote Inness as a formidable landscape painter by reproducing some of his early works and by distributing engravings of them. In 1847, a collector paid $100 for a canvas by Inness and became his patron. With this success, the artist went to Europe (and again in 1854-1855) and he became enthralled when he studied the rustic scenes of Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875).  Millet’s ability to eliminate the unnecessary and to paint the essential and to display with dignity melancholy views that depicted the sad toil of common laborers inspired Inness.

He soon became a follower of the Barbizon painters and was influenced by the works of Narcisse Virgil Diaz de la Pena (1807-1876), Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867) and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875).  After 1854, his paintings start to interpret the best artistic techniques of the Barbizon tradition, learning to paint outdoors in the Forest of Fontainbleau.  He dissolved hard outlines into a play of color and atmosphere.

When he returned to America, he lived and painted in Medfield, Massachusetts, and he began painting intimate landscapes that utilized broad masses of light and shadow, subtle color harmonies and less emphasis on the picturesque.  From 1870-1874, Inness lived in Italy and painted in the Campagna, Florence, the Alban Hills south of Rome and in France.  He began to mute detail and fill canvases with a pervading tonal light and he sought to capture the spirit of nature as it mysteriously changed within atmospheric hazes, mists and natural light.  Falling under the spell of Swedenborgian mysticism, by 1878, Inness was a spiritualist whose brushwork became more poetical, lyrical and sensuous as his subjects crept into an almost corporeal space.

Inness’s paintings go from being somber, moody and glaze toned to those that take on hints of Impressionism (although Inness did not like that tradition) and blend into the enigmatical or obscure, hidden elements of nature.  The artist transformed the luminous romantic realism of the Hudson River tradition into dreamlike expressions of nature that dissolve or fuse lines into atmospheric, pervasive, freely handled naturalism that is expressed uniquely.

Being subjective, Inness observed fact and slowly built up and structured through layers of impasto atmospheres and transcendent visions of nature. Because of this, he is considered one of America’s most talented and gifted landscapists. He said he wanted art to awaken emotions in people.  He did not think a painting should have the purpose of appealing to the intellect or the moral senses, and for certain they were not to instruct or teach. His were expressions of American tonalism -- of the colors of moods.  Inness said, “The true purpose of a painter is to reproduce in other minds the impression which the scene made on him.” (Quoted from James Thomas Flexner, History of American Painting, NY: Dover Publications, 1962, p. 261).

In 1853, Inness became a member of the National Academy (NY). Although he exhibited in clubs, he joined no others, perhaps because he was more an egotist and did not lend a consistent or available humble, sympathetic ear. At one moment he could be friendly, helpful and cheerful of painters and the next moment he could be a volatile, critical, snobby, know-it all who could not bare the presence of artists who had lesser reputations than his own.  Although he had wealthy patrons, if one offended him he was known to arrogantly reject their offers of vast amounts of money for canvases and discard them as fools.  One of his finest, most prestigious friends was also his patron and agent Thomas B. Clarke (1848-1931), who helped sponsor and support for years the grumpy talented artist.

During the 1890s, Inness became so despondent and artistically confused, he repainted over and over again aspects of his canvases.  He rejected science as inferior to art and thought Impressionism produced mere reproductions of nature.  As he struggled to paint what he thought should be coming from him, he rarely was satisfied, and critics across the country criticized him for redoing aspects of canvases until they were ugly.  Because he believed his artistic emotions were of divine origin perhaps he thought nothing he painted was good enough and that was one reason why he repainted canvas after canvas, hoping to find perfection.

After telling a Boston Evening Transcript reporter in 1876 that he wanted to go out West, Inness and his wife Elizabeth finally went to California in 1890.  They stayed at Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego before traveling to Pasadena and then to San Francisco to be with painter William Keith (who was also Barbizon-inspired and often compared with or accused of being Inness influenced).  On March 21, 1890, Keith and Inness stayed at the once-luxurious Hotel Del Monte in Monterey and the Monterey Cypress called Keith “the celebrated scenic painter” and Inness “one of the best landscape painters in the world.”  Inness and Keith painted in the groves and along the rolling seaside cliffs at Monterey, but Inness painted oaks instead of cypress, kept within the confines of the dramatic Barbizon aesthetic and reworked paintings in Keith’s studio, trying to capture the emotion of the landscape.

Before he left California, the overconfident Inness insulted Keith by stating that Yosemite had never been painted well and that he would show the world someone could paint it. Not only had Keith painted Yosemite beautifully, so had Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and many others, but Inness disregarded them as incompetent when he made that statement.  After Inness attempted to capture the essence of Yosemite, he went back to Keith’s studio and admitted he could not paint it.  When Inness left California, he offended the talented Keith once again by gifting him his palette, which Keith in turn gifted to a poverty-stricken artist. The two men remained friends, and Keith admitted he had been highly influenced by Inness’s visit and so had many other California painters. It is not known if Inness ever completed a masterfully handled oil painting or sketch of Yosemite. None are known today.

Landscape painter George Inness, Jr. (1854-1926) often painted with his father and sometimes the duo worked on the same canvases after 1890.  George Inness, Jr. often became frustrated when the Senior Inness attempted to be instructive and helpful because his father often reworked his canvases until he eliminated major aspects of them. Inness died in Bridge of Allan, Scotland in 1894 an internationally recognized landscape painter of esteem.  His estate auction was held at the Union League Club in New York City where one of his Monterey paintings California sold for twelve thousand dollars.

Inness is represented in the permanent collections at the Museum of Fine Art (Boston); Metropolitan Museum of Art; National Museum of American Art; Art Institute of Chicago (20 works); New York Historical Society; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Canajorharie Art Gallery; Cincinnati Art Museum; Carnegie Art Institute; Dallas Museum of Art; Davenport Museum of Art; Arizona State Univ. Art Museum; Arizona Museum of Art; Fogg Art Museum; NAD; PAFA; Newark Art Museum; N.C. Museum of Art; Mead Art Gallery; Indianapolis Museum of Art; The White House; Yale University Art Gallery; New Orleans Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Montclair Art Museum; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Phoenix Art Museum; Wadsworth Athenaeum; High Museum of Art; Davenport Museum of Art; Toledo Ar Museum; Gilcrease Museum, Stark Museum of Art and more.

Bibliography:
Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., The Life and Work of George Inness (NY: Garland Pub. Co., 1977)
Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. and Michael Quick, George Inness (CA: L.A. County Museum of Art, 1985)
George Inness, Jr., The Life, Art and Letters of George Inness (NY: 1917)
Leroy Ireland, The Works of George Inness: An Illustrated Catalogue Raisonné (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1965)
Elizabeth MCCausland, George Inness, An American Landscape Painter (Springfield, MA, 1946);
Majorie Dakin Arkelian & George Neubert, George Inness Landscapes: His Signature Years, 1884-1894 (CA: Oakland Museum, 1978)

And articles “George Inness, The Artist, the Scholar, and the Man,” Collector, October 1894; Art Interchange, September 1894; Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., “George Inness and the San Francisco Art World in the 1890s,” Antiques, November 2000.

Submitted by historian Patricia Jobe Pierce

Biography from Newman Galleries:
George Inness began his career in 1841 as an apprentice in a map engraver's firm in New York City, where he worked for one year.  The only formal training he received came from Regis Gignoux.   Following that, Inness opened his own studio in 1845, the same year he first exhibited at the American Art Union.  He exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1844 and continued to do so for the rest of his life. He also exhibited frequently at the Brooklyn Art Association.

He was elected a member of the Century Association in 1853 and resigned in 1890.
Inness seems to have had an inner restlessness, for he moved frequently and made numerous trips to England, Italy, and France, where he was exposed to the Barbizon School.   Following Inness's exposure to the Barbizon School, his compositions lost the tight linearity of his early work.

Inness was fond of New Hampshire and kept a studio on the second floor of the North Conway Academy for several years before 1876.  The last sixteen years of his life included trips to Mexico City, Cuba, Florida, the Yosemite Valley, and Europe.

Of his painting and of an artist's obligations, Inness said, "A work of art does not appeal to the intellect.  It does not appeal to the moral sense.  Its aim is not to instruct, not to edify, but to awaken an emotion."  Such a philosophy is a direct contradiction of the aims of earlier landscapists such as Thomas Cole and Alvan Fisher, and of the topographical clarity of David Johnson and Asher Durand.

Biography from MB Fine Art, LLC:
Born in Newburgh, New York, in 1825, George Inness was raised in New York City and Newark, New Jersey.  His early life was disrupted by severe illness, and he had as a result little formal academic or artistic education.  In Newark, he studied with the itinerant painter John Jesse Barker, and in New York, probably in 1843, with the French-born landscape painter, Regis Francois Gignoux

Inness visited Italy in 1850.  In 1853 he visited France, where he studied French Barbizon landscape painting, admiring especially the work of the most radical of the Barbizon artists, Theodore Rousseau.  This was, in the influence on his style, the most decisive experience of Inness' artistic life.

In the early 1860s Inness moved from New York to Medfield, Massachusetts. In 1864, he moved to Eagleswood, New Jersey.  At Eagleswood, he was introduced to the teaching of Emanuel Swedenborg.  It became his religious faith, and determined, too, the increasingly allusive, expressive, and almost mystical character of his later art

Inness lived in Italy from 1870 to 1874 and in France briefly in 1875, when he returned to America.  In 1876 he settled in Montclair, New Jersey.  He lived in Montclair for the rest of his life, but traveled widely, often for the sake of his health, to Niagara Falls, Virginia, California, and Tarpon Springs, Florida.

He died on a trip to Scotland in 1894.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
George Inness is remembered as a giant in American Art. He was born in Newark, New Jersey, where he showed an early art talent that was not encouraged by his father. Regardless, Inness would become, with virtually no art training, a member of the National Academy in 1868.

Inness traveled extensively during his life, and in 1891 he shared a studio in San Francisco with William Keith. Works from this trip included Yosemite and Monterey Peninsula paintings. Innes eschewed the overly dramatic style of the Hudson River school painters, and instead focused on a light infused tonalism that, like Keith’s works, relied on glazes for his desired effects.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired):
George Inness, one of the most prominent figures in American art of the 19th century, is best-known today for his poetic and highly expressive approach to landscape painting. He was born in Newburgh, New York, in 1825, the son of a local grocer. While still a youth, he decided to pursue a career as an artist. He initiated his studies during the 1840s, working briefly under John Jesse Barker in Newark, New Jersey. At some point between 1843 and 1845 he was taught by the French-born landscapist, Regis Gignoux, in New York City. During this period, he also spent two years as an apprentice engraver with the New York firm of Sherman and Smith.

George Inness began exhibiting his pictures at the National Academy of Design in 1844. His early work, in its emphasis on detail and topographical accuracy, reveals the influence of the prevailing Hudson River School aesthetic as exemplified by such painters as Asher B. Durand. However after making trips to Italy (1851-52) and France (1853-54), he became deeply influenced by the serene, broadly-painted landscapes of Rousseau, Troyen, Daubigny and other members of the French Barbizon School.

In 1860, for reasons of health as well as discouragement with what he felt to be a lack of recognition from local critics and patrons, Inness moved with his family to Medfield, Massachusetts. He remained there for four years and then settled at Eagleswood, an estate near Perth Amboy, New Jersey. It was around this time that he met the painter William Page, who introduced him to the spiritual teachings of the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. Throughout the 1860s, George Inness gradually began to abandon many of the precepts associated with the Hudson River style, turning instead to a greater emphasis on mood and poetic effect through the use of rich color and fluid brushwork. One of his major points of divergence involved his vision or concept of the American landscape itself; while the Hudson River painters focused on the untamed wilderness, Inness was drawn to what he once described as the "civilized landscape," where nature was shaped to suit the needs of mankind, a combination of both the real and the ideal.

In 1870, George Inness made another trip to Europe, spending most of his time in Rome. Returning to the United States four years later, he spent a year in Boston before moving back to New York in 1875. In 1878, he bought a home and studio in Montclair, New Jersey, where he would live for the rest of his life. During that same year, he helped to found the Society of American Artists, a group of younger, European influenced artists dissatisfied with the conservative, insular attitude prevailing at the National Academy. In 1882, Inness's work was the subject of a major article by the New York critic Charles De Kay in Century Magazine.  Two years later, a comprehensive exhibition of his pictures at the American Art Galleries helped further to strengthen his growing reputation.

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, George Inness's art moved towards a greater level of individual expression. He continued to explore various aspects of both style and theory, always turning to color for its emotive potential. He also began to incorporate one, sometimes, two figures into his compositions, evident in such works as The Monk (Addison Gallery of American Art) of 1873.

Inness produced his most original and his most visionary work during the last decade of his life. In paintings such as Sunrise (Metropolitan Museum of Art), he explored mood and feeling through color, diffused light and a limited number of softly defined forms. Many of his pictures from this period are depictions of forest interiors at dawn or twilight. Although the hazy atmospheric qualities and ethereal nature of Inness's late work has led to comparisons with Impressionism (a movement which did inform his work to some extent), his concept of nature--spiritual, subjective (and thus very modern) -- took him well beyond Impressionism's material and scientific concerns. Indeed, in his emphasis on emotion, his free handling of pigment and in his quiet, harmonious compositions, he was tremendously influential for a younger generation of painters, such as Henry Ward Ranger and Dwight Tryon, whose related aesthetic concerns have since been defined as Tonalism.

During his later years, George Inness painted in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut as well as in California and Florida. He traveled to Europe in 1894, visiting Paris, Munich, and Baden. He died in Bridge-of-Allan in Scotland that same year. A prolific artist, Inness is represented in America's most important collections, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and at the Art Institute of Chicago.

CL

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George Inness is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Hudson River School Painters
Paris Pre 1900
Tonalism



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