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Posts Tagged ‘Swedenborgianism’

To celebrate the official start of summer, we thought we would highlight some of Hawthorne Fine Art’s exciting spring acquisitions of American landscape painting.

Two recent additions to our inventory feature the distinct tonalist brushwork of George Inness (1825–1894). Both Pompton and Pastoral Landscape with Reclining Male Figure were completed in or around 1877, when Inness’s American Barbizon style was in full swing. Inness had spent extended periods in France in the 1850s and early 1870s where he encountered the Barbizon painters working near Fontainebleau. Inness surely felt an affinity for their focus on the cultivated landscape and inclusion of human figures, features which had set his own paintings apart from the untamed views of nature produced by America’s Hudson River School painters. The reductive sensibility, loose brushstrokes, and outline-dissolving chiaroscuro of the Barbizon painters eventually prompted Inness to move away from the precision and clarity of the Hudson River School-type works.

George Inness, Pastoral Landscape with Reclining Male Figure, c. 1877

George Inness, Pastoral Landscape with Reclining Male Figure, c. 1877 (click to enlarge)

George Inness, Pompton, 1877 (click to enlarge)

George Inness, Pompton, 1877 (click to enlarge)

While both paintings feature loose and direct brushwork, they were most likely completed in the studio as opposed to en plein air. Michael Quick argues that Pastoral Landscape, which contains tack holes suggesting the image was hung on the artist’s studio wall, was a compositional study for a finished landscape painting completed later the same year, as well as two later paintings from 1887.[1] Yet Inness develops the atmospheric effects of the darkening sky and varies the textures of the greenery, giving this preparatory image a more polished appearance. Likewise, Pompton contains evidence of Inness’s working process: underdrawing indicates a change in the size and shape of the river bank. Yet, as Quick notes, this small studio painting is “executed in a self-consciously artistic manner as a gem for the connoisseur. Warm and cool colors, darks and lights, masses and active lines are carefully balanced. Every decorative brush stroke of highlights is executed with flair.”[2] Despite their compositional differences, such as the canvas orientation and the addition or omission of solitary figures, these images both bridge the particular moment in Inness’s career as he turned from French Barbizon technique to softer, tonalist compositions reflective of his conversion to the Swedenborgian faith.

Of a very different subject is Louis Charles Vogt’s (1864–1939) C & O Railroad Bridge Construction of 1929. This painting depicts the construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Cincinnati Bridge. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad was formed in 1869 by Collis Potter Huntington, one of the “Big Four” of western railway expansion. By the twentieth century, the C & O Railroad was primarily used to haul bituminous coal. Vogt’s image depicts the 1929 bridge that replaced the original 1889 structure.

Vogt’s image juxtaposes the carefully delineated structural forms of the bridge with thick impasto clouds of smoke to conjure the unpleasant and hazardous work site. Quick swipes of bright colors on the ground and in the figures’ clothing provide a sense of vibrancy in the fast-moving work place. A study for this painting is in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio. While Vogt did create pastoral landscape scenes, he produced numerous scenes of New York and other cities. Like C & O Railroad Bridge Construction, many of Vogt’s cityscapes feature the construction of new structures that aided in expansion and transportation.

Louis Charles Vogt, The Building of the Queensboro Bridge (click to enlarge)

Louis Charles Vogt, C & O Railroad Bridge Construction (click to enlarge)

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Louis Charles Vogt studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy with Frank Duveneck, and later in New York. Through his training, Vogt developed an urban realist style reminiscent of the Ashcan School, which emerged in New York in the early twentieth century. Like the Ashcan artists, Vogt’s painting style features sweeping strokes that capture the vitality and sometimes grittiness of the modern world, as opposed to the leisurely scenes favored by Impressionists.

We hope you have enjoyed reading about our recent spring acquisitions as we transition into the New York City summer! We invite you to make an appointment to view these spectacular works at our new gallery space at 12 East 86th Street, Suite 527, in Manhattan.


[1] Michael Quick, George Inness, see catalogue numbers 602, 631, 919, and 1242.

[2] Quick, 522.

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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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