George Inness, Jr. (1853–1926)

Late-Century Painter of Pastoral Landscapes and Mystically-Tinged Religious Works

By Justin R. Wolf

Painting largely from the “Inness perspective,” George Inness, Jr. spent the better part of his career traveling throughout Europe and the United States, recording breathtaking scenes of nature, fauna, and religious subjects.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources


I. Biography

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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”[3] 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.”
[4]

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.

II. Chronology

1854 Born in Paris, France on January 5th
1860 Inness family returns to United States, taking up permanent residence in Brooklyn, New York, with a summer residence in Medfield, Massachusetts
1868 Enrolls in the Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn, New York, and despite a generally poor academic showing, he becomes a favorite pupil of the Academy’s drawing master
1869 Inness, Jr. registers for the antique class at the National Academy of Design in New York
1870–1875 Travels to Rome and begins five-year tutelage under his father
1875 Spends one month studying in the Paris atelier of master painter Léon Bonnat; returns to the U.S., initially settling in Boston, Massachusetts
1876 Elected to the Salmagundi Club
1877 Begins exhibiting works at the National Academy of Design
1878 Leaves Boston for New York City, and soon after sets up residence and a shared studio space with his father in Montclair, New Jersey, where Inness, Jr. briefly resides in order to save on rent money
1879 Marries Julia G. Smith, the daughter of wealthy publisher Roswell Smith, who purchases one of Inness, Jr.’s paintings and gives him work as an illustrator for The Century Magazine; Inness, Jr. and Smith would eventually bear five children
1880 Elected to the Society of American Artists
1887 Holds solo exhibition of works at the National Academy
1889 Purchases the home Wentworth Manor in Montclair, from his father-in-law
1883 Elected an associate member of the National Academy
1894 Father George Inness, Sr. dies; supposedly experiences a vision of his father that prompts him to destroy nearly one-hundred of his own canvases
1899 Receives Gold Medal at the Paris Salon; elected a full member to the National Academy
1900 Returns to the U.S. and establishes residences in Cragsmoor, New York and Tarpon Springs, Florida
1901 Establishes the George Inness Gold Medal for Landscape Painting at the National Academy; the medal is awarded to one student annually at Academy exhibitions between 1901 and 1918
1907 Donates $200 to the National Academy in order to aid students in need
1913 Writes letter to Editor of The New York Times, protesting a proposed tariff on foreign artworks entering the U.S., believing this would heavily restrict the educational resources of American artists who could not afford to travel abroad
1917 Publishes Life, art, and letters of George Inness
1918–1926 Creates an eleven-painting suite in Tarpon Springs, including such celebrated works as Crucifixion, Entombment, and The Lord is in His Holy Temple, which today are included in the permanent collection of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs, the largest public collection of Inness, Jr. works in the world
1920 Privately publishes Random Thoughts, a collection of humorous stories
1926 Dies in Cragsmoor on July 27th at the age of 72; widow Julia G. Smith arranges for her late husband’s paintings The Centurion and The Last Shadow of the Cross to be removed from The Louvre and shipped to Tarpon Springs
1929 Julia G. Smith donates to the National Academy a set of three binders containing all known pictures of her late husband’s paintings; it was her hope that the pictures would act as a resource to help identify potential forgeries of Inness, Jr.’s work

III. Collections

Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MA
Farnsworth Art Museum, ME
Memorial Art Gallery, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Montclair Art Museum, NJ
Museum of Arts and Sciences, FL
National Academy of Design, NY
Unitarian Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs, FL

IV. Exhibitions

1876–1879 Brooklyn Art Association, NY
1877–1926 National Academy of Design, NY
1879–1881 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PA
1882–1905 Boston Art Club, MA
1896–1899 The Paris Salon (Gold Medal, 1899)
1898–1904 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PA
1901 Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, NY
1902 American Art Society, NY (Gold Medal)
1908 Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1918 Edison Shop Gallery, NJ

V. Memberships

Artists’ Fund Society
Boston Art Club
Century Magazine (Board of Trustees)
Lotus Club
National Academy of Design
Salmagundi Club
Society of American Artists

VI. Notes

1. “The Summer Haunts of American Artists,” Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (May to October, 1885): 848.
2. “ART NOTES: Paintings by George Inness, Jr.,” The New York Times (February 15, 1918).
3. Ibid.
4. George Inness, Jr., Life, art, and letters of George Inness, Vol. 3 (Charleston, South Carolina: Nabu Press, 2012): 123–4.

VII. Suggested Resources

Colbert, Charles. Haunted Visions: Spiritualism and American Art. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
Inness, Jr., George. Life, art, and letters of George Inness, Vol. 3. Charleston, South Carolina: Nabu Press, 2012.
Inness, Jr., George. Random Thoughts. Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2011.
Mattson, Jane Bowie. George Inness, Jr.: From the Material to the Spiritual. Tallahassee: Florida State University, 1991.
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