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Posts Tagged ‘Inness’

By the time Matt Rowland’s Road, Old Lyme, CT was completed around 1919, Clark Greenwood Voorhees (1871-1933) was well versed in the plein air painting technique of Impressionism. Depicting a local landscape near the Old Lyme, Connecticut, art colony where Voorhees made his home, this painting captures the crisp autumn air and vibrant foliage of the Connecticut countryside. Voorhees’s even brushstrokes and thick dabs of paint are typical of the Impressionist manner, which occupied itself with natural effects of light and air. But in this nostalgic image of tangled, overgrown land and a rickety bridge emerges Voorhees’s tendencies toward Tonalism, influenced by the American Barbizon movement.

Voorhees, Matt Rowland's Road, Old Lyme, CT, c.1919

American Barbizon artists such as George Inness (1825-1894) painted in a Tonalist manner using washes of harmonized colors in an attempt to encourage introspective viewing of the image, rather than sensory overload through academic naturalism. Originating from the Barbizon movement in the Fontainbleau region of France, the American Barbizon artists likewise focused on the wildness of local landscapes as a retreat from modern urban life. Voorhees, while incorporating the painting techniques of the Impressionists, is reflecting on this small, seemingly insignificant plot of land along a country road as an escape from the progress of modernity.

The man whose name gives this painting its title was lifelong resident of Old Lyme, Matthew L. Rowland. Recording himself as a “Farm Laborer” in the 1870 Federal Census, Rowland most likely lived and worked near the location depicted by Voorhees. Whether the road was in fact named after Rowland, or if Voorhees simply applied the farmer’s name to the location is unknown, as is any relationship that may have existed between the artist and Rowland, who lived until about 1920. Voorhees’s choice of this local resident and location allows for a meditation on change in the landscape over time, a common theme in both Barbizon and Impressionist philosophy (for example, seasonal change; times of day; or the progress of society). A regular biker who enjoyed physical connections with the landscape, Voorhees aspired toward a subjective interpretation of nature in his paintings, such as this.

1870 Federal Census showing Matt Rowland. Click to enlarge.

By 1919, when this painting was most likely completed, Voorhees and his family, a wife and three children, began to travel to Bermuda each year to escape the Connecticut winter. Voorhees may have completed this autumn scene just prior to his escape to a warmer climate, incorporating the idea of change, in this case seasonal, so prevalent in Barbizon painting and Impressionism. As the brightly colored leaves dry out and fall to the ground, everything and everyone prepares for a long winter in New England. Whether it was Voorhees’s intention or not, it is difficult to avoid the metaphor of the changing seasons, the changing society in which Voorhees was living, and the “autumn” of Matthew Rowland’s life and land.

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On view August 26, 2011 – May 13, 2012 at the Krannert Art Museum is the exceptionally rare reunion of the three remaining fragments of George Inness’s monumental painting The New Jerusalem. Begun in 1866, the painting was commissioned by three patrons, Chauncey Depew, Clarke Bell, and publishing magnate Fletcher Harper, who hoped to use Inness’s powerful work as a means of disseminating the Swedenborgian philosophy. The piece originally had the awe inspiring expanse of approximately 48 x 72 inches before it was tragically and irreparably damaged.

While on exhibit at Madison Square Garden in 1880, the painting was crushed when the building’s roof suddenly collapsed. Inness managed to salvage what remained of the painting, which he divided and revised into smaller canvases that he hoped could still stand on their own as saleable works. What remains today are three pieces of the original work Valley of the Olive Trees, Valley Road, and Landscape, all belonging to different museums. Now through the Krannert Museum’s exhibition, the full canvas can be imagined in its entirety and the mystical influence of Inness’s faith on his paintings can be explored from a new perspective.

Inness converted to Swedenborgianism in 1863 while painting alongside fellow artist William Page in Eagleswood, New Jersey. Inness had first spent time with Page in 1851 while traveling in Italy, but it was not until they painted side by side in New Jersey that Inness fully committed to the Swedenborgian faith and the uniquely mystical technique that it had inspired in Page. Quick writes, “Page thus gave Inness a fresh concept of nature as a place of divine harmony and peace, together with a technique that was designed to create paintings full of this same harmony and balance.” Swedenborgian beliefs held that the earth is a part of the Lord’s Kingdom and that the love and wisdom of the Lord is manifested in nature. Quick explains that this belief was instrumental in “Inness’s most sincere objective of interpreting landscape in spiritual terms, according to his altered understanding of the spiritual dimension in nature that followed his conversion.” Under the influence of Page, Inness’s newfound mysticism began to infuse his paintings.

Inness abandoned the sculptural forms of his previous work and instead embraced rich color applied with softer brushwork to create a unifying atmospheric effect. Page taught Inness a glazing technique learned from the Old Masters that piled semi-translucent layers of color onto the canvas. These delicate glazes created an ethereal effect that beautifully conveyed the Swedenborgian conviction that the spiritual world is ever-present in the physical. In his above shown paintings Landscape, Montclair, NJ, 1867 and Homeward Bound, ca. 1864-65, both created shortly after his conversion, Inness allows the crisp, hard details of the Hudson River School to give way to a new effusiveness. Each glaze leads us further from reality and closer to divinity. In Homeward Bound in particular, the rider’s journey becomes an allegory for the spiritual journey. He is headed home to a cottage that is crowned by a triumphant, riotous sky. His destination implies so much more than a bed and warm fire, but instead suggests a heavenly home, a voyage to a place of ultimate peace and beauty.

To watch a video about the discovery and restoration of The New Jerusalem and Inness’s complex spiritual beliefs, please visit the following link and scroll down: http://thewalters.org/conservation/stories.aspx

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