George Inness' 'Poetry of Place'

Adrienne Baxter Bell

Adrienne Baxter Bell, Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, and author of many articles and books on George Inness, gave an illustrated lecture on "George Inness and the Poetry of Place" at the Montclair Art Museum to a capacity crowd on April 4, 2013.  This was the latest lecture in the series entitled "Jersey: A Sense of Place" being offered this year by Montclair State's Institute for the Humanities with co-sponsorship from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.  

George Inness (1825-1894) was one of America's most important nineteenth-century landscape painters. Born in New York's Hudson Valley, in Newburgh, Inness moved to Newark, New Jersey as a child, and was brought up there. After he was lucky enough to attract the attention of a patron, Inness had the opportunity to develop the artistic training he had begun in New York city with sojourns in Rome and Paris in the 1850s. After returning to the United States and spending some time in Massachusetts, Inness eventually retired in 1885 to Montclair, New Jersey and lived there until his death in 1894. By now an artist of renown, his presence in Montclair attracted other artists to the town making Montclair into something of an artists' colony. Ironically enough, however, Inness' finest hour was probably at the Paris Exposition of 1900 -- six years after his death -- at which the United States Department of Fine Arts showcased Inness' paintings as embodying a truly "American" school of art, his atmospheric landscapes being a refreshing departure from the exotic subject matter rendered in photographic style that characterized the French academic school at that time.

Dr. Baxter Bell brought Inness home to the audience -- literally -- showing fascinating photos of the site of the artist's former home and studio at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Grove Street in Montclair, but she stressed that Inness' paintings, more often than not, are not "place specific," and that precise locations are difficult to identify in his paintings. It is the "poetry" of a place rather than its idiosyncratic topographical markers, Dr. Baxter Bell pointed out, that Inness so successfully captures in his atmospheric landscape paintings, many of which may be seen in Montclair Art Museum's special collection of his work.