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26 June, 2013
George Innes
One of the most interesting things an older artist can do is to look back over his work from perhaps twenty or thirty years earlier. The experience is always enlightening and sometimes quite dramatic. Some artists, of course, establish a certain look or style to their work at an early age and any changes noticeable are often quite subtle--easily apparent to the artist but hard to identify by the average individual. By the same token, if there has been a great deal of formal study especially, there may often be seen drastic differences over perhaps a very short time--a few years, perhaps even a few months.

The American painter George Innes is an interesting case in point. Innes was born in Newburgh, New York in 1825 so if he wasn't exactly born in the Hudson River School, he was at least born in the Hudson River Valley. He grew up however in Newark, New Jersey, with access to the best schools of art nearby New York City had to offer. He began painting in the tight, controlled style of the Hudson River School and after having spent a year studying in Italy, found some success by 1855 when he painted Lackawana Valley.

When Innes returned to Europe, he chose to study in France and was especially attracted to the Barbizon School (roughly the French equivalent of the Hudson River School but with a greater emphasis perhaps on painting in the out of doors). There his painting style loosened up as he studied with Theodore Rousseau. Rousseau's influence can be seen in Innes' Delaware Water Gap of 1861, painted upon his return to America. But Innes' move to the forests of nearby Eagleswood, New Jersey, and his interest in spiritualism, had more to do with evolution as an artist than France or the Barbizon's forests of Fountainbleu. There his depiction of nature, a tree for instance, was no longer treated as a biological specimen but as "merely" a patch of green or brown pigments augmented by sympathetic harmonies of colour stretching across the picture. His 1891 painting, Early Autumn, Montclair is so much softer, so radically different from the Delaware Water Gap of some thirty years earlier they would seem to have been painted by different artists. In effect, they were. In thirty years, Innes had become a different artist.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
1 July 1998

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