George Inness, Sr.
American landscape painter, George Inness, Sr., was born in 1825 in Newburgh, New York, where his father operated a family grocery business. Soon after he was born, the family moved to Newark, New Jersey. Although his father would have liked him to continue in the prosperous grocery business, Inness developed an interest in art (Trumble, 10, 22). His earliest training came by spending time with John Jesse Barker, an itinerant painter who he met as early as 1839 (Werner, 13).
From 1841 to 1843, Inness apprenticed in New York City at the map engraving firm Sherman & Smith. During this time, he met the recently arrived French immigrant Régis-François Gignoux, who was a landscape painter. Gignoux taught Inness about European masters, and Inness focuses his studies and paintings on the landscapes of Claude Lorrain (Quick, v.1, 2). Inness attended classes at the National Academy of Design, where his work was publicly exhibited for the very first time. In 1848, he established a studio in New York City. By 1850, Inness had been married, widowed, and remarried. He was deeply devoted to his second wife, Elizabeth Abigail Hart, with whom he had six children (Inness, Jr., 24, 35, 101).
Inness’s first trip to Italy took place from 1851 to 1852 and was sponsored by his patron Ogden Haggerty, who was a New York entrepreneur. During this trip, he developed a tonalist palette, using predominantly one color, for his canvases as he explored painting techniques (Quick, v.2, 15). His paintings from the beginning of his Italian stay reflect the landscape studies of the old masters (Quick, v.1, 2). In 1853, he returned to Europe for two years and spent time in France, where he was influenced by the Barbizon school of landscape painting (Werner, 15). He visited Italy again from 1870 to 1874.
In 1859, Inness and his family relocated from New York to Medford, Massachusetts, a moved inspired by Haggerty who maintained a second home in Lenox, Massachusetts (Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute). There, he produced many landscape paintings. Using different glazes, he experimented on his canvases allowing the light to create special effects. During his stay in Medford, Inness was interested in the style of Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix, and Jean-François Millet (Trumble, 11).
In 1867, the Inness family moved to Eagleswood, New Jersey, a utopian and abolitionist community that was the home to Rebecca and Marcus Spring. Under influence of the Springs, it became a military academy as well as an artist colony (DeLue, 42). In Eagleswood, his relationship with the landscape painter William Page introduced him to the philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist and philosopher. It is believed by his son, George Inness, Jr., that Inness was greatly affected by the philosophy of Swedenborg (DeLue, 42). Swedenborg felt that everything in nature had its own energy. Inness stated, “It is well known that we through the eye realize the objective only through the experiences of life," (Inness, Jr., 170).
In 1878, Inness met Thomas B. Clarke, who became not only a patron but also a friend. His paintings deeply moved Clarke. He wrote to Inness, Jr.:
There was a time…when everything seemed lost to me. All the sunshine was gone, and the weight of sorrow was heavy on my heart. One whom I loved dearly had been suddenly stricken and taken from me, and with her going went all the gladness of life. Your father had often talked to me of his beliefs and of the life beyond, and the message he was trying to send out in his pictures, but I never understood. In the grief that was almost too heavy to bear I wandered about the house like a lost soul I was inconsolable. I happened to glance up at a little Inness which I owned and always love, A Gray Lowery Day.” And like a burst of life your father’s message of hope and eternity came over me. He spoke through that little canvas, and my soul understood what my mind had not. I was a different man from that hour. It was the only thing that could console me. (Inness, Jr., 278)
A major exhibition of Inness’s work was held in 1884. The suggestion for the show was made by Roswell Smith, the father-in-law of Inness, Jr., and president of The Century Company (Kirby, 1). He desired "to bring the artist recognition, he would like to arrange a public exhibit of the paintings in the American Art Galleries,” (Kirby, 1, see illustration). The Art Union wrote a short review and called it the “most interesting collection of pictures ever exhibited in this city,” (This Inness Exhibition, 90). In 1889, Inness was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition.
Following the unexpected death by natural causes in 1894 of George Inness, Sr., the American Fine Arts Society formed a committee that included Clarke, Samuel Isham, Will H. Low, and Charles Lamb to arrange the exhibition of paintings left by Inness. Almost two hundred and fifty paintings were displayed at the American Fine Arts Society, beginning December 27, 1894. None of the canvases had been publicly exhibited before (American Fine Arts Society). The exhibition catalog was digitized as part of the Documenting the Gilded Age project (see illustrations).
Henry Reinhardt & Son in New York held an exhibition of twenty of Inness’s paintings in 1917. The works were acquired from Inness, Jr. This exhibition catalog was also digitized (see illustrations). Elliott Daingerfield, who studied with Inness, authored the introduction to the catalog. He wrote:
We may say that George Inness has preserved for all time in his art the epic beauty of the swiftly passing forests of America – the pastoral loveliness of her fields, the splendor of her skies- the charm and the tragedy of landscape life here in our land. (Reinhardt Galleries)
Included in the exhibition were works from many different regions in which Inness painted. Some of the titles in the exhibitions were Medfield Oak, Gate of Albana, Niagara Falls, Green Hillside, The Greenwood, The Sunburst, The Apple Tree, The Woodchopper, The Windstorm, The Model, and The Old Veteran.
In 1912 and 1917, exhibitions took place at the New York School of Applied Design for Women and Ainslie Galleries in New York. The catalogs for these shows have been digitized (see illustrations). Like the Reinhardt exhibition, they contained paintings from many of the places Inness lived and visited.
---. "The Inness Exhibition." The Art Union Apr 1884: 90. Web. 7 Dec 2012. <http://0-www.jstor.org.arcade.nyarc.org/stable/20442891>
American Fine Arts Society. Exhibition of the Paintings Left by the Late George Inness. New York: American Fine Arts Society, 1894. Web. 7 Dec 2012. <http://arcade.nyarc.org/record=b1186376~S1>
Daingerfield, Elliott. George Inness: the Man and his Art. New York: Privately printed, 1911. Print.
DeLue, Ziady Rachel. George Inness and the Science of Landscape. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2004. Print.
Kirby, Thomas. “The Crowning of George Inness, N.A.” c. 1919–1923. American Art Association Records. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives. Print. <http://arcade.nyarc.org/record=b920817~S1>
Inness, George, Jr. Life, Art, and Letters of George Inness. New York: The Century Co., 1917. Web. 7 Dec 2012. <http://openlibrary.org/books/OL13531200M/Life_art_and_letters_of_George_Inness>
Quick, Michael. George Inness, a Catalogue Raisonné. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007. Print.
Reinhardt Galleries. Exhibition of Paintings by the Late George Inness, N.A. Recently Acquired from George Inness, Jr. New York: Henry Reinhardt, 1917. Web. 7 Dec 2012. <http://arcade.nyarc.org/record=b1186538~S1>
Trumble, Alfred. George Inness, N.A.: A Memorial, the Student, the Artist and the Man. New York: The Collector, 1895. Print.
Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute. A Walk in the Country: Inness and the Berkshires. Web. 7 Dec 2012. <http://clarkart.edu/exhibitions/inness/content/index.cfm>
Werner, Alfred. Inness Landscapes. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1973. Print.