Editor's note: The San Diego Museum of Art provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the San Diego Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


George Inness and the Visionary Landscape

January 24 - April 18, 2004


In January 2004 the San Diego Museum of Art will present the first major survey of the work of the important 19th-century American landscape painter, George Inness, in eighteen years. Titled George Inness and the Visionary Landscape, the exhibition features more than 35 of the artist's most beautiful landscape paintings, demonstrating the important place Inness holds in the development of American art.

Organized by the National Academy of Design in New York, the exhibition serves as both a retrospective of George Inness's career as an artist and a focused examination of some of the most important issues and ideas that guided his development as a painter. It is guest curated by Adrienne Baxter Bell, a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Columbia University. (right: George Inness (American, 1825-1892), Hackensack Meadows, Sunset , 1859, oil on canvas, 18 ?. x 26 inches, On permanent loan from The New York Public Library, Stuart Collection 22, Collection of The New-York Historical Society)

"Visitors to this exhibition will discover that the word 'visionary' works on multiple levels in connection with the paintings of George Inness. For not only did Inness strive to develop a form of landscape painting that articulated his own vision of metaphysical realities as manifested in the earthly sphere, but the styles and techniques he innovated in the process were in themselves visionary," says the Museum's chief curator, D. Scott Atkinson.

George Inness and the Visionary Landscape traces the artist's career from his early Hudson River School period of the 1850s to the broadly painted, gestural compositions of the 1870s, to the hazy, mystical works of the 1880s and early 1890s. The exhibition explores how Inness derived insight from the writings of the Swedish scientist-turned-mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), ideas that resonated throughout mid-19th-century American culture. It also reveals Inness to have been one of the finest painters of his generation, an artist constantly in search of new pictorial techniques to serve as new forms of expression. (left: George Inness (American, 1825 -1892), Lake Nemi, 1872, oil on canvas, 75.56 x 113.98 cm., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of the Misses Hersey, 1949 (49.412) ©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2003)

Born in Newburgh, New York, in 1825, Inness received little formal artistic training. The inclusion of his work in the National Academy of Design's Annual Exhibition of 1844 marked the beginning of a lifelong affiliation with the Academy. Already painting with a more gestural technique than his Hudson River School colleagues, the young Inness found himself attracted to the broadly conceived landscapes of the Barbizon School, which he likely saw during a trip to France in 1853 to 1854. (right: George Inness (American, 1825 -1892), The Coming Storm , 1878, oil on canvas, 26 x 39 inches, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Albert H. Tracy Fund, 1900 )

The first section of the exhibition features several fine examples from this period including A Bit of the Roman Aqueduct (1852), from the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. This charming pastoral created after his first trip to Italy (1851-1852) draws heavily from Inness's keen understanding of the European landscape painting tradition first articulated by Claude Lorrain (1600-1682). Also in the exhibition, Hackensack Meadows, Sunset (1859), from the New-York Historical Society, reflects Inness's newfound admiration for the Barbizon aesthetic in its use of loose brushstrokes to capture the subtle play of light and shadow.

During the 1860s Inness became increasingly devoted to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, whose ideas helped shape the thoughts and writings of such luminaries as the Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and poets Walt Whitman and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Swedenborg's concepts on the existence of a direct correspondence between all things of the natural (earthly) and spiritual worlds inspired Inness to evoke the existence of a spiritual realm through his compositional structures.

The second and third sections of the exhibition explore Inness's experiments in creating a spiritual space in his paintings, which may have been directly motivated by his study of Swedenborg's "Doctrine of Forms." In works like Lake Nemi (1872, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which Inness deemed "one of my very best," and The Monk (1873, Addison Gallery of American Art), Inness structures his landscapes around geometric forms, a reflection of the Swedenborgian notion that geometric forms possess spiritual identities. Through these and other compositional devices, Inness hoped to inspire an almost "religious experience" in the viewer.(right: George Inness (American, 1825 -1892), Landscape, 1888, oil on canvas, 56.2 x 70 cm., ©The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2003, Gift of the Estate of Charles F. Brush, 1929.464)

During the late 1870s and 1880s, Inness created some of his most expressive paintings, leaving visible traces of his brushstrokes on the surface of the canvas, thereby reinforcing the viewer's awareness of the artist's presence as creator of the landscape. The union of empirical pictorial freedom and highly enigmatic, visionary spaces and forms emerges dramatically in the late paintings featured in the last two sections of the exhibition.

In later works like Landscape (1888, Cleveland Museum of Art) and Sunset Glow (1883, Montclair Art Museum), Inness combines compositional order, which alludes to the reality of an ordered spiritual realm, with rapid-fire brushwork, which stands for the volatility of human existence. In doing so, he sought to awaken new thoughts and emotions in the viewer through the contemplation of the seamless union of otherwise opposing qualities. The inclusion of a single faceless figure in these paintings reinforces the focus on the inner or spiritual life.

Inness's devotion to Swedenborgian doctrine and his desire to stimulate new ways of looking at the world led to the creation of a new form of the visionary landscape. His innovative stylistic contributions, coupled with his studies in psychology and philosophy, distinguish Inness from his American contemporaries. Inness's work is both technically accomplished and metaphysical and anticipated many of the most important tenets of modernism that continue to inspire contemporary audiences.

George Inness and the Visionary Landscape is organized by the National Academy of Design, New York, NY. It is generously funded by the Lehman Foundation and the Frank and Katherine Martucci Endowment for the Arts.



National Academy of Design, New York, September 17 - December 28, 2003
San Diego Museum of Art, January 24 - April 18, 2004



The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring an in-depth essay and catalogue entries by guest curator Adrienne Baxter Bell. The 176-page book includes 40 color and 12 black-and-white illustrations and is available in both hard and soft-cover editions.



"Experiencing the Landscapes of George Inness"
Michael Quick, art historian
March 9, 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., James S. Copley Auditorium
A noted authority on George Inness, Michael Quick is the former curator of American art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and author of An American Painter Abroad: Frank Duveneck's European Years.
Insight Gallery Talk
March 11 at 6:00 p.m. and March 21 at 2:00 p.m.
D. Scott Atkinson, SDMA's chief curator and curator of American art, leads museum visitors on a tour of the Inness exhibition. Free with admission
Sounds of Art with David Korevaar
"George Inness and the Visionary Landscape"
February 19, 7:00 p.m., James S. Copley Auditorium
International recording artist David Korevaar continues his series of engaging and insightful musical explorations of exhibitions presented at the Museum this year with a program of piano music by Liszt, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Edward MacDowell, Charles Ives, and Arthur Foote.

RL note: Readers may also enjoy

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History. Individual pages in this catalogue will be amended as TFAO adds content, corrects errors and reorganizes sections for improved readability. Refreshing or reloading pages enables readers to view the latest updates.

rev. 9/19/06

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the San Diego Museum of Art in Resource Library.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2003 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.