A central figure in the history of American 19th-century landscape painting, George Inness (18251894) made two sojourns to Italythe first in 1851 to 1852 and the second from 1870 to 1874during which he followed in the footsteps of the Old Masters in pursuit of a technique that would place him at the forefront of American art. This focused exhibition of 10 significant works is the first to examine the impact of Innesss experience of Italy and how this significantly influenced his stylistic development over the course of three decades. It will present loans from public and private collections alongside the Museums Twilight on the Campagna of around 1851, which, recently conserved and reframed, will be on view for the first time in nearly 60 years.
We are pleased to have an opportunity to highlight this newly conserved work and to display it together with nine other important landscapes as we explore the profound effect that Italy had on the nature and development of Innesss art, said Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The research undertaken in conjunction with the treatment of this painting and the new insights gained from the process will be vital for the future conservation of the artists early work.
From his first days in Italy, Innesss work reveals an immediate and deeply personal engagement with the landscape as well as sensitivity to Italys rich artistic traditions. Italy was an enormous catalyst in Innesss life, prompting him to engage fully with the scenes before him in a manner that was increasingly adventuresome, emotive, and poetic, said Mark Mitchell, Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, who organized the exhibition. By working from direct observation, he channeled a romantic current in his paintings that made them less stylized and signaled his engagement with the scene before him as well as the Renaissance and Baroque masters to whom he looked for inspiration.
Innesss two trips to Italy marked very different moments in his career as he rose to prominence and later pre-eminence in landscape painting, which was already Americas signature genre. During his first trip (185152), Inness took inspiration from the same Italian countryside that had inspired the Old Masters, painting such familiar subjects as A Bit of the Roman Aqueduct (185253). Twilight on the Campagna, painted during this same period, however, marks a dramatic shift in style as Inness moved away from the conventional format of the pastoral landscape to the creation of sparer, more evocative compositions.
Italy lingered in Innesss imagination after he returned to the United States in 1852. He continued to paint Italian views during the nearly two decades between his first and second trips, creating works such as St. Peters, Rome (1857) from his vivid memories of specific landscapes, and eventually returned to Italy in 1870, remaining there for the next four years. This was the most productive chapter of his career. In the paintings created during this period and in later works inspired by this second trip including Pines and Olives at Albano (1873) and his last dated Italian subject, Near Perugia, Italy (1879)Inness continued to develop the atmospheric aesthetic for which he had become so well known and admired. This represented the culmination of years of experimentation that had begun with his arrival in Italy in 1851. The soft focus and diaphanous paint layers that later came to be the defining attributes of tonalist painting were first inspired, and then developed and refined through Innesss sustained engagement with Italian art and the Italian landscape.
The conservation of Innesss Twilight on the Campagna has provided both the impetus to re-examine the influence that Italy exerted on Innesss work throughout his career, as well as an opportunity to understand his early technique more thoroughly. Motivated by the publication of the Inness catalogue raisonné in 2007, the Museum undertook a full-spectrum scientific analysis of the painting, with particular emphasis on its well-preserved surface and unusual shellac varnish layers. The findings of the analysis and subsequent treatment have resuscitated a great work of art in the Museums collection and will also offer a resource for the conservation of paintings by this important and innovative artist in the future.