Montclair Art Museum Opens George Inness. Private Treasures

The Montclair Art Museum presents George Inness: Private Treasures, which opened Sunday, November 6, as the first special exhibition to be held in the George Inness Gallery, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Martucci. The gallery is the only space in the world dedicated to the work of George Inness (1825-1894) and customarily houses an installation of rotating selections from the Museum’s renowned collection of America’s greatest landscape painter. George Inness: Private Treasures, on view through April 1, 2012, consists of 10 works, nine from private collections as well as one from the Montclair Historical Society. The local lenders are from various towns in New York and New Jersey, including Montclair, Glen Ridge, Essex Fells, Verona, and Irvington. Additionally, George Inness Sketching Outside His Montclair Studio, a painting from the Museum’s collection by Inness’s son, George Inness, Jr., will be on display. The exhibition is curated by MAM chief curator Gail Stavitsky.

George Inness (1825-1894), Twilight, 1875. Oil on canvas, 20 ¼ x 30 ¼ in. Collection of Douglas R. Ewertsen.

Inness, often called the “father of American landscape painting,” was a visionary artist whose renderings of nature were profoundly personal and inspired by his belief in Swedenborgianism, the philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). According to the teachings of the Swedish scientist-mystic Swedenborg, God speaks to humanity through nature, connecting the spiritual and material worlds. Inness referred to this spiritual dimension as “the reality of the unseen.” Inness’s considerable contribution to American art at the turn of the century greatly influenced 20th-century art movements, and brought recognition to American artists in their own right as peers of their European counterparts. Inness settled in Montclair in 1885 and the town of Montclair was frequently the subject of his art. As a nationally and internationally recognized artist during his lifetime, Inness’s presence attracted other well-known artists, helping to establish the town’s reputation as an intellectual community and artists’ colony, one of the earliest in the country.

In addition to the Museum’s holdings of 18 paintings, 2 watercolors, and an etching, Inness is well represented in local collections. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to view significant works that span the artist’s career from his productive trip to Italy in 1870–74 to the year of his death, in 1894. The lyrical, intimate landscapes of the 1880s and 90s reveal Inness at the height of his expressive powers as the artist employed softly brushed, broadly generalized forms to evoke the mystical unity of material and spiritual existence. A master of essentials, Inness felt that a literal copying of nature would record only its transitory and fragmentary aspects. He therefore evolved a harmonious, eternal style of broad, expressive brushwork that unifies all aspects of the pictorial composition.

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