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Friday, January 28, 2011

George Inness

One of the most interesting things an older artist can do is to look back over his or her work from perhaps twenty or thirty years earlier.  The experience is always enlightening and sometimes quite dramatic.  Some artists establish a certain look or style to their work at an early age and any changes are often quite subtle--easily apparent to the artist but hard to identify by the average individual.  By the same token, if there has been a great deal of formal study especially, there may often be seen drastic differences over perhaps a very short time--a few years, perhaps even a few months.   
The American painter George Inness is an interesting case in point.  Innes was born in Newburgh, New York in 1825, so if he wasn't exactly born in the Hudson River School, he was at least born in the Hudson River Valley.  He grew up however in Newark, New Jersey, with access to the best schools of art nearby New York City had to offer.  He began painting in the tight, controlled style of the Hudson River School and after having spent a year studying in Italy, found some success by 1855 when he painted Lackawana Valley.   
Delaware Water Gap, 1861, George Inness

When Innes returned to Europe, he chose to study in France and was especially attracted to the Barbizon School (roughly the French equivalent of the Hudson River School but with a greater emphasis on painting in the outdoors). There his painting style loosened up as he studied with Theodore Rousseau.  Rousseau's influence can be seen in Innes' Delaware Water Gap of 1861, painted upon his return to America. But Innes' move to nearby Eagleswood, New Jersey, and his interest in spiritualism, had more to do with evolution as an artist than France or the Barbizon. There his depiction of nature, a tree for instance, was no longer treated as a biological specimen but as "merely" a patch of green or brown pigment augmented by sympathetic harmonies of color stretching across the picture. 

Early Autumn, Montclaire, 1891,
George Inness
 His 1891 painting, Early Autumn, Montclair is so much softer, so radically different from the Delaware Water Gap of some thirty years earlier they would seem to have been painted by different artists.  In reality, they were.  In thirty years, Innes had become a different artist.

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