Cameos of Art Museums' Collections of Historic American Art

The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts

New York, New York

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Asher Brown Durand, Founder 1826, PNAD 1845-61


This pair of paintings by a founder of the National Academy was first exhibited in the Academy annual of 1840 under the titles Landscape, Composition, Morning and Landscape, Composition, Evening, suggesting Durand, or Frederick J. Betts who commissioned the works, was not as interested in the allegorical nature of his paintings as in stressing their claim to the picturesque landscape tradition of such artists in Claude Lorrain.

Above left: The Morning of Life, 1840, oil on canvas, 49 5/8 x 84 1/8, inches Gift of Mrs. Frederick J. Betts, 1911; Below right: The Evening of Life, 1840, oil on canvas, 49 3/8 x 83 3/8 inches, Gift of Mrs. Frederick J. Betts, 1911

The critic for the New-York Mirror grasped this intention while noting their close affinity with Thomas Cole's Departure and Return (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) which had been exhibited at the Academy in 1838:

"[Durand's] "Morning" and "Evening," lately finished, and now exhibiting at the National Academy, are his greatest works. They abound in many beauties and some faults. In the first place, the idea is too much like Cole's "Departure" and "Return," to be original. He imitated very successfully the coloring of Cole, and tried, though without success, to use his pencil... If Durand devotes his attention to landscape-painting alone, and studies nature more, he will eventually become a first-rate artist in this interesting branch....The large group of trees in the first [Morning] are admirable, excepting that they are a little too top-heavy. Those in the second [Evening] could not be improved. It was customary with Claude to throw over his foregrounds a dark mass of shadow, and it is this which adds to the beauty of his perspectives."

The critic for the New-Yorker noted: "Durand has materially changed his style...He seems to have depended altogether on memory and imagination." And the Knickerbocker's reviewer, after calling the two paintings "very fine," but faulting a few details of coloring, concluded,

"Mr. Durand recently sailed for Europe, and we are one will avail himself more closely of the privilages there offered... He has surprised every one, year after year, by his steadily progressive improvement; and should his life be spared, we may predict that Mr. Cole will sooner encounter him as a rival than any other artist now among us."

In all their iconographic details Durand certainly intended that the Morning and Evening lead spectators to contemplation of contrast of youth and age, hope and patience, the pagan world of the antique and Christian world of the Middle Ages. Despite the contemporary complaint of imitation of his friend and mentor, Thomas Cole, Durand demonstrates a remarkable degree of independence in that he has made such didacticism subservient to the overall pastoral theme of the idealized composite landscape.

At this early stage of his career as a landscapist Durand seems more drawn to the long-standing traditions of such art than the innovations being pursued by his closest colleague.


George Inness, ANA 1853, NA 1868


Landscape, 1860, oil on paper, mounted on panel, 161/4 x 24 inches, NA diploma presentation, May 3, 1869.

This work was executed while Inness and his family were living in Medfield, and the scene shown, although not in any way topical, might have been inspired by the landscape of that

Whatever the case, Landscape shows the influence the French Barbizon school on the young Inness who, just at this time, was moving away from the clarity and detail of his earlier Hudson River School aesthetic.


Inness's family moved to New Jersey when he was a boy. His long, peripatetic, and prolific career began with studies under the itinerant artist John Jesse Barker, a year working in New York in the shop of a map engraver, and a brief period of study under the French emigre painter Regis F. Gignoux. By 1846, when Inness registered in the Academy school, his name could be annotated "landscape painter," an indication that he already had attained professional status. Indeed, he had exhibited a number of landscape compositions in Academy annuals for the previous three years.

Inness made his first trip to Europe in 1851, passing a year in Italy, but it was his second, taken in 1853, again for about a year, that had a lasting impact on his art. On this visit he was predominantly in France. His landscapes thereafter took on attributes of the French artists working in and around Barbizon whose work Inness had experienced first-hand. Perhaps most striking of the changes in Inness's art, accountable to his study of France's progressive painters was the use of a lighter, freer brushstroke that spoke more of atmosphere than of form. This vigorous, expressive use of paint supported his intention in representing nature to communicate feelings and sentiments from mind and heart, rather than specific, realistic detail.

By now married and with children, Inness returned from France and settled in Brooklyn, New York. Here he enjoyed the patronage, as well as the acquaintance, of Henry Ward Beecher. Always plagued by delicate health and an acutely sensitive, nervous temperament, his state of health and mind dictated removal to the calm of Medfield, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, in 1860.

He moved his family again in 1864, this time to Eagleswood, near Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the site of a former Utopian colony. From childhood Inness was always much preoccupied with metaphysics, philosophy, and theoretic premises of religion, and brought his intense religious convictions to his painting of landscape. William Page also took up residence at Eagleswood, and the force of this senior, distinguished artist's intellect had great influence over Inness. It was Page who introduced him to the Swedenborgian faith -- to which he was a committed convert by the time he left Eagleswood in 1867. Inness was especially receptive to Swedenborgianism's tenet that all material objects have a spiritual significance and correspondence, both in form and color.

Inness returned to Europe in 1870, settling in Rome for five years. On coming back to America he went again to live in Medfield and set up a studio in Boston; a few years later he returned to New York, until in 1878, he finally came to rest in Montclair, New Jersey. His son lived there also, and the house occupied by his daughter and son-in-law, the sculptor Jonathan Hartley, adjoined his. Although he attained some measure of peace and contentment in these years, his physical health remained a problem, and his continued travels to every part of North America, from Niagara Falls to Florida, from the Yosemite Valley to Mexico City, had much to do with seeking respite in beneficial climates.

Thomas B. Clarke began to represent and advise Inness in the the later 18?0s, and partly from this assistance his work began to enjoy broad acceptance and admiration and the accompanying material rewards. In 1877 he was among the founders of the Society of American Artists. A younger generation of artists and, most certainly, prevailing taste finally had caught up with his vision of landscape as a vehicle of emotional expression.

Despite long absences from New York, Inness had remained a consistent exhibitor in Academy annuals and otherwise kept strong ties with the Academy. This fact is no better proved than that the venerated landscapist's funeral was held in the Academy on August 23, 1894. The appropriateness of these proceedings was remarked upon in the Academy minutes, which also eulogized Inness's "intense individuality, manifested in his positive utterances, his enthusiasm, and devotion to his work."

The Inness Gold Medal for landscape painting, instituted by the artist's son, George Inness, Jr., was awarded in Academy annual exhibitions from l90l through 1918.

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This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 11/8/11

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