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The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

ART/WRITE – George Inness

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George Inness (American, 1825-1894)

Inness, George, Twilight (also Sunset Glow and Close of Day), 1887
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel L. Kingan
Oil on canvas, 11.72″ x 17.8″

1. Biography

Inness received little formal art training, studying only briefly with painters in New York. His trips to Italy (1850-52) and France (1854-55) would introduce him to the Barbizon School artists who embraced their native landscape as an independent subject in their art. Inness became a leading figure of the American Barbizon style, but by the 1880’s he became more known for his style of Tonalism. These later paintings from the 1880’s and 1890’s are characterized by a moody landscape with an overall tone of colored atmosphere.

Influenced by nineteenth century metaphysics, Inness said his objective in art was the construction of a model of vision, one that taught one to see beyond our bodily sight and to possess divine sight- the ability to see Christ. This spiritual “truth” was not captured in painting exact details but in capturing the reality of the unseen and the unexplored. Art, he believed, could instruct the world to see reality in a new light.

Unlike other nineteenth century painters, such as Thomas Cole or Thomas Moran, Inness  painted his pictures from memory in the studio, rather than en plein air (outside in nature) or from sketches in the field.  But he still observed the natural landscape very closely, sitting for hours carefully studying the contours of trees and the composition of clouds and the grass.  This practice also seems closely tied to his metaphysical philosophy, as he stated about one painting, “Was it done from nature? No. It could not be. It is done from art, which molds nature to its will and shows her hidden glory”.

End of the Rain (1891) is a great example of his Tonalist qualities, where the atmospheric haze and the cool, dark colors create a strong mood within the painting. The black under-painting commonly used in Inness’ work is revealed in some areas, creating a visual effect that helps to darken the overall tone as well as the emotive qualities.

Bibliography

DeLue, R.Z. (2004). George Inness and the science of landscape. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


2. History

Defining and describing place became a major subject and movement in American art during the nineteenth century. The land became a symbol for what America was, for what American was for this young country. Earlier landscape painters from the Hudson River School, like Thomas Cole, were greatly influenced by Romanticism and the Sublime.  The Romantic literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries greatly influenced the arts as well, with an emphasis on individuality as well as a belief that the divinely good inhabited nature while human society was corrupt and evil.

Later nineteenth century landscape painters such as George Inness could not escape the influence of the highly acclaimed Hudson River School painters. Nature was often described by writers and artists of the time as a book to be read, and that when read properly could reveal the creative force of God and the truths of the world. All forms of the natural landscape were understood as signs that were part of a divine language to be deciphered.

One of the major influential writers of the time was Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). A critical element of his philosophy was the idea of awareness, where it was important to be always on the alert and looking at “what is to be seen”. This type of alertness to the scene, he argued would allow one to accurately recreate a sunset, the contrasting colors of tree bark and the shapes of rocks on the ground. His influence on Inness can easily be heard in his statement, “It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look” (Walden, II).

Bibliography

DeLue, R.Z. (2004). George Inness and the science of landscape. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Furtak, R. A. (n.d.). Henry David Thoreau. Retrieved March 21, 2013, from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2009/entries/thoreau/


3. Writing Exercises

Inquiry

  • What do you see?
  • What is going on in the picture?
  • What colors do you see?
  • What is the mood? What visual elements determine this mood?
  • Describe the figures you see.
  • Describe the setting? Does it look cold, warm, wet, dry, safe, dangerous, populated, or deserted?
  • How does the image make you feel? Why do you say this?

Persuasive- Interpretation

Based on what you see, what is the work about, what is the artist saying with this image? What evidence from the painting supports your interpretation? Write one paragraph that summarizes your interpretation with supporting details from the image.

Expository- Craft and Structure

George Inness was particularly influenced by the philosophy from the writers and thinkers of metaphysics. Research metaphysics in American culture during the 1900’s and analyze how this perspective is reflected in Inness’s work. How does Inness communicate this philosophy in the painting, End of the Rain (1891)? What visual characteristics reflect the philosophy?