Interpretive Resource

Introduction: Inness's Spirituality in Painting

An introduction to Inness's philosophical beliefs and a look at the spiritual qualities of his Florida landscape of marshes and mist.

Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 93.

Throughout his career, George Inness painted intimate landscapes that are a distinct departure from the grandiose, topographical views of the Hudson River School, which represented the established American landscape tradition. A regular visitor to Europe, Inness admired the formal experiments of James Mallord William Turner, the Barbizon School painters, and James McNeill Whistler, and he may have seen works by the Impressionists in Paris in 1874, the year of their group exhibition. He adopted the practice of making quick sketches outdoors and then translating them into finished oil paintings in his studio. However, Inness denied the influence of modern French trends, preferring to explain his works in spiritual rather than optical terms.

Like many artists and writers of the period, Inness subscribed to the tenets of philosopher Emmanuel Swedenborg and believed that harmony in nature rejects a divine presence. In his evocative paintings, he attempted to communicate his mystical vision of landscape.

Inness painted The Home of the Heron near the end of his life, during a summer stay in Tarpon Springs, Florida. There, he confronted an exotic landscape of marshes and mist—quite divergent from that of his rural New England home—which he depicted in an increasingly muted, abstract style. The trees that dominate this canvas have become flattened patterns, balanced against a light ground. Inness blurred the boundaries between the ground cover and the canopy of branches both in the foreground and along the horizon, symbolically suggesting the unity of all of God’s handiwork. The gravity and stillness of this image, with the last rays of sun bathing the lone figure of a heron in golden light, perhaps hint at the artist’s sensitivity to nature’s cyclical rhythms of day and night, and of life and death.

animals, landscapes, weather/seasons
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High School

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