“The true use of art is, first, to cultivate the artist’s own spiritual nature.”
Today is the birthday of American landscape painter George Inness (May 1, 1825-August 3, 1894). Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Inness has been called “the father of American landscape painting.” He is sometimes categorized as a Tonalist because of his moody dark scenes and his work often emphasizes the connection between nature and spirit. Inness was influenced by the grandeur of the work of old masters such as Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa, as well as the work of Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand.
In 1851 he traveled to Europe for the first time and met fellow painter William Page in Florence, Italy. Page introduced Inness to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, which influenced the direction of Inness’s philosophy and art. Then, in Paris, he encountered the loose, emotional brushwork of the Barbizon school. The combination of a Barbizon-inspired aesthetic and the idea of representing divinity in the details of the natural world (championed by the New Path artist group in the 1860s) shaped Inness’s distinct vision and style.
The 1865 painting Peace and Plenty (below) is a large landscape that emphasizes abundance. It has been interpreted as representing the Swedenborgian idea of the New Jerusalem, the “promised land” of a new spiritual age where people are more directly connected to divinity.
In 1863, Inness was commissioned to paint a series of three landscapes on the theme of “the pilgrim’s journey” from the natural to the spiritual realm. Of the series, collectively titled “The Triumph of the Cross,” only The Valley of the Shadow of Death (below) still survives.
Inness also taught drawing at Eagleswood Military Academy in New Jersey, and one of his students was Louis Comfort Tiffany, who was later commissioned to create a series of Swedenborgian-themed stained-glass windows. Inness was identified in an article in Harper’s Weekly in 1867 as Swedenborgian, and he and his wife were baptized in the Brooklyn New Church in 1868 by the Rev. John Curtis Ager. Inness also authored the article “Colors and Their Correspondences” for the New Jerusalem Messenger, a Swedenborgian publication.
Inness died in Scotland in 1894, with a body of work comprised of over 1,150 paintings, watercolors, and sketches. He died while viewing a sunset, and his last words as reported by his son were, “My God! Oh, how beautiful!”
Bell, Adrienne Baxter. “George Inness (1825–1894)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/inne/hd_inne.htm (December 2012).
George Inness, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Inness.