Thursday, August 20, 2009

Inness in Italy

In 1870, financed by a Boston art dealer, Inness returned to Italy for five years. Inness seemed to have a wanderlust. As a landscape painter it was certainly useful to put new scenery in front of the easel.

Above is an Inness and it is filled with interesting little things, scattered artfully about its surface. There are all these actors that Inness likes to trot out onto his stage. There are little white rocks, some goats, and an extremely odd tree in front of the lake. Inness is scattering these things across his canvas as decorative accents. He begins to use these accent spots in so many of his paintings now that they become a personal mannerism with him. If I were to try to imitate Inness, I would scatter these little accents all over.

Notice how the big odd tree in the right foreground is countered by the smaller odder tree on its left in front of the lake.To the right of the foreground tree is a triangular rock,with a friend or two. Out there by the smaller tree in the mid distance to its left, a matching triangular rock with a friend or two. There are juxtaposed mirrored passages, one large and one small right in the middle of this painting. None of this happens of course by accident (sometimes referred to in this blog as observation).

The midground of this painting is based on a decorated diagonal line, here is a post from some time ago I did on this time honored device. The post I created the link to shows the same device used in both a Metcalf and a Hibbard. That puts it into three successive generations of wildly different landscape painters. The rising diagonal line in this painting is crossed by another diagonal going the other way that is smaller. The foreground is a sort of a big X as a result.


It feels good to throw one of those capitalized "important" sentences in, I haven't done it in a while. I think it is really important to stress over and over that artists like Inness are not "painting the day", or just copying that which is in front of them. They are making slightly concealed, intelligent arrangements, sort of armatures on which they hang their paintings.

Inness has also counterchanged that big foreground tree against its background. It is bright against the dark shadow that runs behind it, and then stands proud of its light background because of the shadow side it bears as it rises.

Here is another Italian picture from the same era, and again it has those little incidents scattered artistically about its surface. There are also the counterchange games going on here too. (If you need to backtrack and read about counterchange go here). See the little tree in the foreground again standing bright in front of that shadow behind it?It is counterchanged against the bright green above that with its color. The background being green and the tree red.

There is also a sort of strange symmetry going on with the bright ruined arched bridge in the foreground, mirrored by the bark group if trees above it in the same position. They are mirror images of one another separated equally by that band of dark that runs across the middle of the painting.

  1. This image is REALLY strange. It is so mysterious, almost creepy. Squint at it to eliminate its details and notice the absolutely bizarre arrangement of its shapes. Notice also how Inness "sews" the little monks head to the wall above him. There is a pleasing balance of the horizontals formed by the plane trees and the forms of the ground with the uprights of the tree trunks decoratively arranged across a band upper part of the picture. Those on the left are dark in front of the light sky, for two thirds of the way across, then those on the right third are light against a dark background. In the foreground below each section a mirror image is happening. Below the upper section of dark trees against a light sky is a section of light tree trunks against a dark background. Below the area of light trunks against dark foliage above, the lower band has dark branches in front of a light background.
Incidentally all of the darks in this painting are one big unit. You can place your finger anywhere on them and move about the entire dark shape without lifting your finger.

Well that's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!


jeff said...

Stap all these post on Inness have been great. Did you see the show a while back, I think two years now at the Sterling Clarke on Inness?

He has always been my favorite American painter not only of landscapes but just for pure painting at the highest level.

Thanks for all the work your putting into this.

Unknown said...

I'm probably going to display my ignorance here. Well, it won't be the first time for that!
It seems to me that all of Inness' works have a tonalist quality. All the darks seem to be that same dark brown. Am I just looking at it wrong, or is this really the case?
And, this may be heresy, but I am not crazy about some of his works.. they seem almost too stilted or something, and that one with the monk is truly bizarre. Having said that, the ones I like, I REALLY like, and just stand back in awe.
"slyrost" stealth coffee making.

Philip Koch said...

Heck, I'm getting used to my daily morning coffee and Inness show. What am I going to do when this ends?

Thanks for posting these great images. The yellows Inness put in the sky in the over-the-top monk painting are so lovely- like some yummy lemon cream pie. And the warm and cool greens playing off each other in the final painting are just the right touch. Inness had an inner poetry when he painted like that.

Deb commented she's not crazy about some of his works. Me either, I think Inness stumbled from time to time. Much of his early work can be stiff. But so often he hit the ball right out of the part, especially once he found his stride in middle and later years.

And it is a good thing if any of us painters find fault in the work of those who've gone before us. It's our task to do it differently and better than what we're complaining about. I've had the good fortune to have studied with some very fine artists, and yet I routinely found private disappointments in their paintings. And it helped me not just stand in their shadows.

Overall I think what's best of all about Inness is his clear debt to the artists who preceded him, but then his ability to stake out some new territory as his work matured.

Gregory Becker said...

His Italian paintings have always been interesting to me but for slightly different reasons.
I used to have a book that showed the color and the greyscale on the opposite page and it had about 4 or 5 Inness paintings in there and I have an obsession when it comes to value and I would study them for hours and never get bored.
I still take paintings and turn them into greyscales so that I can see the value relationships.
I compared his Italian paintings in greyscale to an artist named Wendy Artin who currently lives in Rome and works with mostly watercolor and is famous for her sepia tone washes. She captures those wonderful roman trees in a similar manner. A strange connectivity between them.
Wendy Artin is the reason I began pursuing art.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I did see that show. There were several very early Inness paintings in it too. I saw the Metropolitan Gallery show in 1985. I looked in my catalog and it says the Met anyway, I keep remembering it as being at the National Gallery in DC.I was a big retrospective, I would love to see it again....

Stapleton Kearns said...

The later Inness are tonalisyt piaintings. The brown shadoes you see are common to all pre impressionist painting. Often they ar ethe ground on which the painting was done. There are Inness paintings I don't like,and some of the early ones are just OK, but I think he was Amwericas greatest painter, except perhaps for Sargent.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are going to get to continue with that for a while. I have almost another 30 years to cover! I hope all my readers are not Innessed out. There is a lot to learn from Innesss and no other American landscape painter can in my opinion teach the aspiring painter as many differing things.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Perhaps I should present a few in both color and black and white.

tim said...

Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, La. has the only impressionistic painting by Inness I have seen. It gave me hope to know that even GEORGE INNESS had truly bad experiences in his career. I love his later tonal work but not that green impressionistic attempt!