Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2011 Issue

George Inness:  Picture Perfect

Inness2

An interesting picture, probably by George Inness

I recently purchased a painting on eBay for $1,182.  It’s small and faintly familiar.  The artist is George Inness and the subject appears to be the Catskills, possibly looking south.  The underlying evidence for its authenticity is strong but so is my desire that it be so.  I liked the painting online and like it much more in person.

The scene is of a lake, intersecting ridges, the one coming in from the left in front of the ridge coming in from the right.  A lake lies between.  An almost identical scene, looking south toward the ridges, lake and skyline, was frequently painted by Hudson River painters in the 19th century; that Inness would paint it entirely logical.   The Catskill Mountain House along the second ridgeline would be just out of view.

George Inness was born in Newburgh, New York  [in northern Orange County] in 1825 and like most sons of Newburgh made his reputation and money elsewhere.  But he maintained his interest in the valley and, from time to time, returned to Milton on the Hudson just north of Newburgh in Ulster County, to summer and paint.  This painting is consistent with his later style and I have found documentation confirming he painted small paintings of area subjects while staying in Milton in the 1880 – 1890 period.  Size is an issue because the painting is small – 6” x 8”, well below the minimum sizes most 19th century painters used.  For confirmation I have relied on the “Executor’s Sale Catalogue of Paintings by the Late George Inness, N.A” which, while undated, does mention that the exhibition and sale is occurring on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, February 11th, 12th and 13th.  Mr. Inness died in 1894 and the nearest year that has those days on those dates is 1898.  The catalogue style is also consistent with that period.

Mr. Inness is not the area’s most famous 19th century painter.  That honor probably goes to John Vanderlyn of Kingston whose paintings and portraits of the early decades of the 19th century hang in important collections and museums.  Second is possibly the polymath Samuel F. B. Morse, an exceptional painter as well as inventor of the telegraph and resident of Poughkeepsie whose paintings are all but impossible to acquire today.  Next, Mr. Inness and a few others would compete for the show position.  As Mr. Inness spent summers painting scenes in Ulster County he has my vote. 

Rare Book Monthly

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