George Inness Jr.
George Inness, Jr. was born on January 5th in Paris, France, the first of six children to the celebrated American tonalist painter George Inness and his wife Elizabeth Abigail Hart. When Inness, Jr. was aged six, the family returned to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, New York, where he spent most of his childhood. He enrolled in classes at the Adelphi Academy and immediately gravitated towards the arts, fast becoming a favorite pupil of the school’s drawing master. Interestingly enough, Inness, Jr.’s early penchant for the studio met with disapproval from Inness, Sr., who believed the boy should apply himself to all his studies equally. In 1870 Inness, Jr. traveled to Europe, whereupon he began a five-year tutelage under his father, mostly in Rome followed by Paris. While in Paris, Inness, Jr. spent one month studying in the workshop of painter Léon Bonnat. Although Inness, Jr. certainly benefited from observing first hand Bonnat’s vivid brushwork and mastery of portraiture, Inness, Sr. would remain his foremost artistic influence. During this European sojourn, Inness, Jr. was also exposed to several painters from the Barbizon School, in particular the animalier Constant Troyon, whose depictions of cattle and other fauna in landscape foregrounds would greatly inform Inness, Jr.’s brief rebellion from his father’s signature tonalist aesthetic. This rebellion, however, would prove relatively short lived. In 1875 the Inness family returned to the U.S., first to Boston, followed by New York City, and finally settling in Montclair, New Jersey, where father and son shared a studio. By this time Inness, Jr. had become determined to distance himself from his father by incorporating cattle, horses, and oxen into his paintings, much in the style of Troyon. Montclair’s lush surroundings afforded the young Inness “every facility for the painting of his favorite subjects, animals in landscape.” Despite this inclusion of animal life, the younger Inness’s tonalist-inspired work remained largely derivative of the elder’s, “in which the sky plays the leading part…and affirms itself the giver of light.” In 1879 he wed Julia Goodrich Smith, whose father Roswell Smith ran the prominent publishing company The Century Company, and became a modest collector of his son-in-law’s work. Consequently, this newfound financial independence helped assuage any worries regarding generally poor art sales. Shortly after his father’s death in 1894, Inness, Jr. claimed to have experienced a vision of his father, an incident which provoked him to destroy close to one-hundred canvases that he believed too closely resembled Inness, Sr.’s style, and return to Paris once more as a student. Inness, Jr.’s newfound spiritualism led him to paint a number of religious-themed works while living abroad, including The Centurion and The Last Shadow of the Cross, both of which hung in The Louvre for nearly a quarter century. Inness, Jr. also participated in the Paris Salon during this time, and in 1899 won the coveted Gold Medal. In 1900 he returned to the U.S. and established two residencies, one in Cragsmoor, New York, and a winter residence in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Inness, Jr. created a great number of paintings in Tarpon Springs, including an eleven-painting suite of landscape and mystical works, completed between 1918 and 1926, which together exemplify the artist’s mature period. These works bear the “delicate relations of color” that father and son shared, as well as Inness, Jr.’s mastery of conveying rich greenery and woodlands juxtaposed with luminescent skies, often accompanied by religious scenes. Following years of careful cataloguing, in 1917 Inness, Jr. published Life, art, and letters of George Inness, which reads as both biography and autobiography, tracing the artistic evolution of both men, and in which Inness, Jr. is quite candid about his own early struggles to find a distinct painterly style. In one passage, Inness, Jr. recalls a rather revelatory conversation between himself and his father, while the two shared a studio in Montclair: “Yes, I have a canvas here I’ve been fussing over. How does it look?” “Fine, Pop,” I answered enthusiastically; “all right, beautiful. Fine tone.” “Yes, it has things in it, but it’s stupid. Confound it! It’s too good; it’s all tone. That’s what’s the matter with it. I’ve got too much detail in the foreground … Those weeds don’t mean anything. Let’s take them out; they are not the picture. This picture is very good, but it’s all tone.” “Yes, Pop, but that’s what I like about it; it’s beautiful in tone.” Within this brief, and in all likelihood, lovingly paraphrased excerpt, Inness, Jr. captures both his ongoing struggle to distance himself from his father’s approach and pay homage to the tonalist style that made the Inness name one for the ages in American art history. Although he never fully escaped from the shadow of his father, at his most mature, Inness, Jr.’s lively and often subtle use of green, and his focused fascination on the effects of natural light all conveyed a deep reverence for the mysticism contained within one’s simple natural surroundings.