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A Walk in the Country: Inness and the Berkshires


The first-ever exhibition devoted to the Berkshire landscapes of George Inness (1825-1894), one of the most prominent American artists of the 19th century, will open at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute on February 6, 2005. A Walk in the Country: Inness and the Berkshires will showcase about 15 paintings by Inness, including several rarely seen works from private collections. These views, painted by Inness during his frequent forays to Berkshire County in Western Massachusetts from the 1840s through the 1870s, trace the course of Inness's style and career.

"The Berkshires have been a center of cultural and intellectual activity for 150 years, attracting many artists, writers, and musicians," said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. "Inness was engaged with this cultural community for three decades and had many important patrons among the legendary 'Berkshire Cottage' summer home owners. In many ways, his timeless, idealized paintings do for the Berkshires what Cole and Church did for the Hudson Valley."(right: George Inness (1825-1894), View in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, Clearing Off After a September Storm,1849, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY)

The Berkshires in the mid-19th century attracted a vibrant community of artists, writers, and thinkers, including Inness's first major supporter, Odgen Haggerty, who had a large summer home in Lenox, and famed orator and writer Henry Ward Beecher, another Inness patron. Inness undoubtedly knew lawyer William Cullen Bryant and novelist Catherine Sedgwick. Photographs, letters, and other historical papers relating to Inness's Berkshire circle will be reproduced in the exhibition.

Inspired by the Berkshire landscape in the summer and fall, Inness idealized the scenes in his paintings to emphasize timelessness and emotional resonance over realistic representation. Among the works featured in the exhibition are View in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, Clearing Off After a September Storm (1849, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wy.) Summer Sunshine and Shadow (c. 1862, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas), and In the Berkshires (1877-8, Malden Public Library).

Because Inness employed a Berkshire theme at different points in his career, the exhibition traces the development of the artist's style. His early works drew inspiration from the old masters, while others look to the French artists of the Barbizon school. Inness's later works are strongly influenced by philosophical theories of his time, especially the teachings of Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.

Born in Newburgh, N.Y., George Inness spent his younger years in Newark, N.J. Early on, his use of color and light was influenced by Barbizon artists Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet, and Theodore Rousseau. In the 1860s, Inness's work took a more spiritual turn as he studied Swedenborg. Swedenborg, whose followers included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Walt Whitman, stressed the correspondences among God, the physical world, and the spiritual world, emphases that are evident in Inness's later landscapes. In 1878, Inness settled in Montclair, N.J. It was toward the end of his life (and after his death) that he gained his greatest fame, exerting tremendous influence over American landscape painting.

The Clark, known for its collection of 19th-century American paintings by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Frederic Remington, also has two works by Inness in its collection. Though not painted in the Berkshires, Home at Montclair, 1892, and Wood Gatherers: An Autumn Afternoon, will be featured at the time of the Inness exhibition.

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