Saturday, August 15, 2009

George Inness

George Inness was one of thirteen children and grew up ion Newark new Jersey. As a teenager he worked as an engraver, and received training from Regis Gignoux. He studied at the School at the National Academy of design. He studied a year in Rome. Returning to the states he married Delia Miller who died after only several months of marriage. A year later he married Elizabeth Hart, and they were to have six children.
Inness was about as strange a man as is imagineable. Here is a picture of him that gives some indication of how eccentric he was. My daughter just came in the room and said "that looks like you dad".
In Rome he was introduced to Swedenborgianism. I have made a habit of staying away from religion on this blog, but in order to discuss Inness I shall have to do that a little. Swedenborg 1688-1772 was a Swedish scientist turned mystic and religious philosopher whose body of writings are the core documents of a small sect who believe them to be the third testament of the bible. For you religiously educated, they reject the doctrine of sola fide and hold to a oneness doctrine rejecting the idea of Gods triune nature and share with the Mormons a belief in eternal marriage. If all of that means nothing to you, I am not surprised, but the purpose of this blog is not theology, so I will rush on.There was also a lot of overlap between the Swedenborgians and
the spiritualist movement in the 19th century. Many of the Spiritualists attempted to communicate with the dead, although Swedenborg himself warns against this. It is forgotten how huge the spiritualist movement was in America, it lasted until the second world war, by which time I think most of its adherents had gone to their own graves and are now probably incommunicado. Those of you who have been to any of the old spiritualist villages in New England, like Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, or Bayside in Lincolnville Maine are familiar with this history. Many of the important thinkers in the 19th century were Swedenborgians, including Emerson and the other Concord transcendentalists. Heres tonights bizarre factoid......Johhny Appleseed was in fact a Swedenborgian missionary.
It was recorded that when Inness spoke it was hard to tell where art left off and religion began.
Inness constructed elaborate theories of color based on Swedenborgian theology. He also used mathematical formulas to develop his designs.

Inness was a year older than Church, but when Church died his art was totally forgotten. He died in obscurity. Inness developed and progressed with or ahead of the developments in art , morphing from a Claudian style classical landscape painter, as illustrated by the paintings on this page into a Barbizon style painter and finally into a tonalist and nearly abstract painter. Because he was constantly changing, his art never went out of fashion like all the rest of his Hudson River school contemporaries. When he died his body laid in state at the National Academy of Design and he was praised as possibly Americas greatest painter.

Inness outstripped his Hudson River school friends with a simple idea which he developed, incidentally, after the period in which these, his earliest paintings were made. That idea was:

THE FORMS OF NATURE WERE TO BE ARRANGED AS A VISUAL LANGUAGE TO EXPRESS THE EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS OF THE ARTIST.

The implication of this is that the painting is a decorated surface rather than an illusionistic window. After his earliest period his paintings became inventions in the studio that were arranged by mathematical, religious and emotional systems of construction. They were less and less real places. As they became less cartographic they became ever more poetic. They are deeply intellectual and complex. There is a mystery to his paintings that I find in the work of no other American landscape painter.

I can disassemble and reverse engineer a Church or a Cropsey. I have seen their drawings and I understand how their paintings were made. Innesss is a different thing, I understand some of what goes on in them but a lot of what I see there is unfathomable . It is a language peculiar to Inness himself. I don't think I have ever seen an artist so hard to imitate. I have seen many artists who could ape his mannerisms in a superficial way, and when I have seen their work I have thought "Oh they have been studying Inness". But I have never seen any artist who could really do IT.


Inness went through a lifelong evolution that took him from being the painter of these Claudian landscapes to this............................

I will continue on Inness tomorrow.

17 comments:

DennyHollandStudio said...

Stape~
You hit it, Inness held that intellectual quality in his work as he continued to morph into a poetic state. The Inness book I read is titled, "George Inness and the Visionary Landscape" by Adrienne Baxter Bell...

Rae O'Shea said...

There is a certain resemblance Stape...LOL

Gregory Becker said...

Oh do I ever love that tree painting.
As far as the reflection pic I am still looking. It's hard to find a good photo that displays it.
When I stand next to a body of water. I look to the left and the right. From both positions the reflections point toward me. If someone was standing next to me they would say that the reflections are pointing toward themselves.
I guess what my point is is that to represent that phenomenon positions the viewer and lends to more believability. It is subtle however when you are looking staightforward. I think that our eyes percieve it much better than a camera. Now I cant stop seeing it.
Great post. I'll keep looking for an example.

Gregory Becker said...

I have a good question to ask...
If yoy could go back in time and whisper something in your ear that you think would advance your own artistic endeavors, what would you say?
I don't have enough readers to ask this on my own blog, but I would love to hear what your readers think as well.

Simone said...

Stape, nice to know there is another artist out there who is comfortable and conversant with phrases like "sola fide"! I know a number of artists whose religion is art and the sale their most important sacrament...

I live in Pinellas County, Fl about 40 minutes drive from Tarpon Springs. Inness had a home in Tarpon Springs. A rather large one. He had a slot in the wall through which he would pass his large canvases. His son, George Jr., inherited the property and lived most of his adult life there. I have a late 19th century, paint spattered table that came from that "manor". My wife and I sometimes joke about which splotches came from George Sr.

Good post!

Simone said...

Oh yeah, my response to Gregory Becker's question...I would go back to when I was still in college the first time and say, "Keep painting, the dream is possible!" I would also tell myself not to be concerned with what others have to say about what I'm doing or how I'm doing it. I'd tell myself to believe that what I am doing is valid!

Philip Koch said...

There was a great story that Inness was down in Mexico and ran across one of his old paintings, somewhat damaged, in a junk shop. It was of a railroad roundhouse in Pennsylvania. He bought his own piece, repaired it, and today it is one of the keystones of the American painting collection in the National Gallery of Art. Many the struggling artist can take comfort in such a story.

Christine Walker said...

"THE FORMS OF NATURE WERE TO BE ARRANGED AS A VISUAL LANGUAGE TO EXPRESS THE EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS OF THE ARTIST."
That is the very thing.....

Stapleton Kearns said...

Denny:
I have that book. I wish the images were better. It is the only book that shows a lot of them, but the paper is cheap or something. Did you notice that...............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Rae:
There is a little, but I actually look more like Todd Rundgren.
.....Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Rae:
There is a little, but I actually look more like Todd Rundgren.
.....Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gregory I will watch for that. I am often in locations where it would happen.
......Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gregory;
I will pose that question in the blog tonight and we will see who answers and how. The best answer will win an e-mail full of semi-colons.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Simone"
I have always thought it strange that Inness spent part of his later years in Florida. The paintings are good though. I should look up Tarpon springs. Big fish to find in as spring.
.........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip:
I will show that painting tonight.
.....................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Christine;
Its just that simple.Actually it is a radical ides in many circles. I sometimes get hate mail when I suggest the manipulation of nature as an artistic end.
...........Stape

DennyHollandStudio said...

Yes, I noticed that about the book, the paintings are small for the most part, but still a good read. Fortunately we have a beautiful Inness residing at the De Young in San Francisco, I visit it often for a dose of the real deal.