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George Inness painting tree

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The paintings by Inness are as good as landscape painting gets. You can smell the fileds and feel the breeze in the trees as you gaze at art work that is sublime.

George Inness (May 1, 1825 -August 3, 1894) was an American landscape painter; born in Newburgh, New York; died at Bridge of Allan in Scotland. His work was influenced, in turn, by that of the old masters, the Hudson River school, the Barbizon school, and, finally, by the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg, whose spiritualism found vivid expression in the work of Inness’ maturity. He is best known for these mature works that helped define the Tonalist movement.

George Inness was born in Newburgh, New York. He was the fifth of thirteen children born to John William Inness, a farmer, and his wife, Clarissa Baldwin. His family moved to Newark, New Jersey when he was about five years of age. In 1839 he studied for several months with an itinerant painter, John Jesse Barker. In his teens, Inness worked as a map engraver in New York City. During this time he attracted the attention of French landscape painter Régis François Gignoux, with whom he subsequently studied. Throughout the mid-1840s he also attended classes at the National Academy of Design, and studied the work of Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and Asher Durand; “If”, Inness later recalled thinking, “these two can be combined, I will try.” He debuted his work at the National Academy in 1844.

Inness opened his first studio in New York in 1848. In 1849, he married Delia Miller, who died a few months later. The next year he married Elizabeth Abigail Hart, with whom he would have six children.

Inness moved from New York City to Medfield, Massachusetts in 1860. In 1862-63, Boston, he was an art teacher to Charles Dormon Robinson. He then to Eagleswood, New Jersey in 1864. He returned to Europe in the spring of 1870, living in Rome and touring TivoliAlbano, and Venice. In 1878, he returned to New York, taking a studio in the New York University Building. The same year, he also participated in the Universal Exposition in Paris, and published art criticism in the New York Evening Post and Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

His work of the 1860s and 1870s often tended toward the panoramic and picturesque, topped by cloud-laden and threatening skies, and included views of his native country (Autumn Oaks, 1878,Metropolitan Museum of Art  ; Catskill Mountains, 1870, Art Institute of Chicago), as well as scenes inspired by numerous travels overseas, especially to Italy and France (The Monk, 1873,Addison Gallery of American Art ; Etretat, 1875, Wadsworth Atheneum). In terms of composition, precision of drawing, and the emotive use of color, these paintings placed Inness among the best and most successful landscape painters in America.

Eventually Inness’ art evidenced the influence of the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg. Of particular interest to Inness was the notion that everything in nature had a correspondential relationship with something spiritual and so received an “influx” from God in order to continually exist. Another influence upon Inness’ thinking was William James, also an adherent to Swedenborgianism. In particular, Inness was inspired by James’ idea of consciousness as a “stream of thought”, as well as his ideas concerning how mystical experience shapes one’s perspective toward nature.

Inness was the subject of a major retrospective in 1884, organized by the American Art Association, which brought him acclaim in the United States. He earned international fame when he received a gold medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition.

After Inness settled in Montclair, New Jersey in 1885, and particularly in the last decade of his life, this mystical component manifested in his art through a more abstracted handling of shapes, softened edges, and saturated color (October, 1886, Los Angeles County Museum of Art), a profound and dramatic juxtaposition of sky and earth (Early Autumn, Montclair, 1888,Montclair Art Museum), an emphasis on the intimate landscape view (Sunset in the Woods, 1891, Corcoran Gallery of Art), and an increasingly personal, spontaneous, and often violent handling of paint. It is this last quality in particular which distinguishes Inness from those painters of like sympathies who are characterized as Luminists.

In a published interview, Inness maintained that “The true use of art is, first, to cultivate the artist’s own spiritual nature.”  His abiding interest in spiritual and emotional considerations did not preclude Inness from undertaking a scientific study of color, nor a mathematical, structural approach to composition: “The poetic quality is not obtained by eschewing any truths of fact or of Nature…Poetry is the vision of reality.”

Inness died in 1894 at Bridge of Allan in Scotland. According to his son, he was viewing the sunset, when he threw up his hands into the air and exclaimed, “My God! oh, how beautiful!”, fell to the ground, and died minutes later. A public funeral for Inness was held at the National Academy of Design, and a memorial exhibition was conducted at the Fine Arts Building in New York City.