Sunday, August 23, 2009

Late Inness

The painting above Early Autumn Montclair, is about my favorite Inness. It was painted in 1891 and he lived until 1894, and painted more after this. Inness continued to grow and get better all of his career, here he is late in life, undiminished and powerful. Only the essential forms are defined, everything else in this painting is merely suggested. There is again the decorated band across the center of the painting. That major tree is located almost in the center of the painting, but its pairing as a group with the smaller trunk pulls it just enough to one side that it is not static.

The shapes are peculiar, unique and decorated with little accents and incidentals. Look at the way the leaves scatter up into the sky at the middle left. The light blasts into the trunk of the tree and all about that area are lights stacked on top of darks on top of lights. The muted yet rich color is completely synthetic, Inness did not observe this scene and rush home to paint it. He did not paint the day, he painted the machinery of GOD.

Here is another similar painting that mines the same ideas, however it is more open and "major key". There is again, the decorated band of syncopated upright trunks across the middle of the painting. Nothing else I know of in the history of landscape painting looks anything like these two paintings.

This is another nice arrangement. The fine trunks of the trees, are a foil for the similarly shaped streak of light behind them to their left. The "blocky " groups of trees along the horizon are another Inness device we have seen repeatedly. Look at how Inness so neutralizes those greens that he can fill a picture with them and it is not a problem. We don't see it as being too green, but it IS all green.

Over the course of his career Inness made a number of pictures similar to this autumn scene. This painting was exhibited at the National Academy, just prior to Inness death and carries on a type of painting he had worked at his entire life. The forms of the painting are dissolving in the warm atmosphere.

I will return tomorrow and finish the paintings and life of Americas greatest landscape painter George Inness.

images from and


Unknown said...

Wanted to let you know, there is a new and easy way to post images for people to see at high resolution and it's free, which is
It would be great to be able to zoom up close into some of these George Innes paintings, or to see your paintings. Keep up the good work and blogging.
I put some examples on my blog

Gregory Becker said...

Stape, your take on Inness is the best I have ever read and I have read quite a bit.
I am fascinated with what you said about his ability to nuetralize greens and yet everything is green. That for me just demonstrates his complete dominion over his craft.
His hanling of light accents are the most divine theatrics on canvas.
Great post.

Philip Koch said...

A zillion years ago when I was a sophomore at Oberlin College I took an art history survey class from the then near-famous Ellen Johnson. It covered the period from the impressionists up through contemporary art. But Johnson was a wild woman for Cezanne, so the bulk of the lectures were on his paintings. Honestly, though there are many Cezannes I think very beautiful, there are many more that leave me luke warm (I am told he feels the same about my work).

The many lectures on Cezanne in this art history survey class were good, but at some point personal taste takes over. I know he set an example that set many painters thinking about exploring new paths with their work. But somehow the way he was held up by Johnson as THE important painter of the 19th century rubbed me the wrong way. I think there were lots of "important" painters then, as now.

With wild man Kearns giving us this series on Inness it is a bit differrent- this isn't a college class for credit and we visit here simply out of shared interest. So I think its great Stapleton is indulging his love of this particular artist. Of course it doesn't hurt he's one of my favorites too.

Jesse said...

I would love to see some of those in person. I am curious about how his paint looks up close. There is a softness about the works, but you can tell he didn't blend the paint into oblivion.

Tom said...

Hi Stapleton

I like that "machinery of God'" it seems close to what art is. When I think of Thoreau and Emerson I think of the brush painting of China who's art has a much clearer philosophical base then western art ( a philosophy closely aligned with Thoreau and Emerson). One does not duplicate nature or copy nature, one expresses oneself as nature hence there is no need to go out and copy nature. (Of course there is years of hard work and study, I am just talking off the cuff here) Once one understands how nature organizes itself one knows how to organize and make a painting. I like Van gogh's letter it which he describes how a Chinese artist comes to understand all of nature by learning to paint one single blade of grass. Or as Delacrorix wrote the subject of art is your feelings and thoughts about nature. This has been one of the most confusing things for me as an artist, what is the subject.
Philip Rawson made a great point in his book Drawing that older artists who where hired by the society they lived in whether it was the Pharaohs or the church etc, where free to concentrate on the true subject of art which was the development of form and space, as the apparent subject, the myth or story being told never had to considered by the artist.
A clear philosophical outlook realizes that reality can only be expressed in analogy. Everything is a symbol for what can not be spoken. Thus you can best describe things of the world when you know how they are similar to other things in the world. In many ways this is why I find older art so much more powerful then newer art, the thought behind the work is so much fuller and ordered. And perhaps this is one of the reason you sensed a gap between the work of artist like Rubens and the teaching of drawing by site method. The same thing happened to me. The more I went to museums I realized a lot more was going on that copying angles and measuring distance across a flat plane. The most powerful artists say to themselves, "the Shoulder is like a ball, or a shoulder is like a hill or a hill is like a ball etc". And as one begins to think this way a sense of space starts to enter ones work.(To the Chinese this is one greatest achievements an artist can aspire too, to feel the emptiness of space) Your brush now climbs the hill or slides down the hill or shoulder, after awhile it does not even matter what the thing is, it is that sense of space that is so compelling.
I think that is why "the machinery of God" is so right, you do things the way nature does things, you move thorough space with the same freedom as nature. These ideas are discussed in many books. Two that I found especially good are The "Mustard seed Garden Manuel of Painting" a how to paint book that was publish in China in the 1700's. Also Philp Rawson " Drawing" is a wonderful book. As Vernon Blake said it is how the drawing is thought that determines its success.

kev ferrara said...

Now, Tom... with a great post like that, how can you not link us to your work!



Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. Check out Walters blog at

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.I appreciate the comment. I am excited about Inness and hope to drawe the readers of this blog to a study of him and other fine American painyters. But I am not a scholar.
Nicolai Cikovsky This guy knows more about Inness than anyone, he is the guy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are a lot of good Inness paintings out there and they are widely distributed. However they vary wildly in their surfaces. You need to see different paintings from different periods of his career to get an idea of his surface.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Well said.You are writer, I can tell.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I would like to see that also, hows about it Tom?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you, I think...I had one of those teachers too, they were standard issue in every art school. They made it possible to graduate generations of students who knew nothing about any artist other than Cezanne, Matisse and Warhol.

Unknown said...

You know, those little vienna sausages aren't half bad, especially if you are REALLY hungry.
What could be bad about canned hot dogs?
I think that second Inness is magical.

"appro" a person who is really good at something. As in, "Stapleton is appro". said...

Tom, Foster Cadell says "When the subject matter dominates the execution, then the painting has failed". I find this personally inspiring.

Chris said...

I've been browsing around in Barbara Novak's trilogy of art history books: "American Painting of the Nineteenth Century," "Nature and Culture," and "Voyage of the Self," in which she pretty much singlehandedly established a framework for the study of the American tradition in the context of Romanticism, transcendentalism, etc.

One of the threads I'm noticing is that, for Novak, right from the start (it's present in Cole) there's this split in the tradition between realism and faithfulness to Nature on one hand (Cole, Durand, Eakins, Homer) and an emphasis on imagination, the conceptual, the interior role of the artist on the other (Cole, Inness, La Farge, Whistler).

Obviously Stape this is something you have talked about quite a bit - i.e., NOT painting the day. I think there's a ton of instruction out there on how to paint what things look like, but not so much on How to See like an artist and paint What you See. That's why Henri's "The Art Spirit" is so amazing and why I think that book should be required reading for all who aspire to genuine creativity.

This has been one of the most confusing things in art to me - how to be faithful to imagination and at the same time to the real.

Jan Blencowe said...

These late works from Inness are my absolute favorites. I find them works of unspeakable beauty. They are sublime and transcendant.

You make quite a statement when you say "Nothing else I know of in the history of landscape painting looks anything like these two paintings." But I think you are exactly correct!

Inness is a gem. His evocative work is authentic and unique.

Thanks so much for this series of posts.

Stapleton Kearns said...

What on earth are you talking about? Vienna sausages? Are you OK?

appro= apple as pronounced in Gloucester

Stapleton Kearns said...

Foster does have his moments. I really enjoy his keys to successful color book.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There is a great book also part of a series called "That Wilder Image" by Thomas Flexnor. If you have access to a good library you should be able to find it although it is out of print. It ois a pocket history of this era of painting. It is full of little anecdotes and fills in the character of the various painters.It is a GREAT little book, that should be reprinted by somebody, I read it in the 70's over and over again, as it was almost the only reference on many of those guys.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you Jan:
I make those wild statements with a chuckle, wondering if any one will call me on them . In am half expecting someone to e mail me a nearly identical painting by some Italian guy of the same era. They sure look unique to me though!