Cover image for George Inness and the visionary landscape
George Inness and the visionary landscape
Bell, Adrienne Baxter.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : National Academy of Design : G. Braziller, [2003]

Physical Description:
174 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
General Note:
Published on the occasion of an exhibition held at the National Academy of Design, New York, Sept. 17-Dec. 28, 2003 and San Diego Museum of Art, Jan. 24-Apr. 18, 2004.


Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ND237.I5 A4 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The landscape painter George Inness (1825-1894) was one of the foremost American artists of his generation. Born in Newburgh, New York, Inness studied the works of the old masters and, as a young man, painted in the reigning style of the Hudson River School. Within a few years, however, he found himself more attuned to the gestural, expressive approach of the Barbizon School. He greatly admired the free handling of paint and the expression of soulfulness in the works of Theodore Rousseau. Equally important were Inness's philosophical and spiritual concerns. Along with contemporaries Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Walt Whitman, Inness studied the writings of the Swedish scientist-turned-mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). During a trip to Italy in the early 1870s, Inness began to structure his landscapes around geometric forms, a development that may have reflected the Swedenborgian idea that the natural world corresponds to the spiritual world and that geometric forms possess spiritual identities. Through these and other compositional devices, Inness created paintings to inspire an almost "religious experience" in his viewers. George Inness and the Visionary Landscape includes forty color reproductions of Inness's most important paintings and presents both a chronological overview of Inness's life and a more focused treatment of the artist's main philosophical and religious preoccupations. It suggests resonances between Inness's visionary landscapes and the concurrent efforts, on the part of the psychologist/philosopher William James (1842-1910), to validate the existence of mystical states of mind. It shows Inness to have anticipated many of the most importanttenets of modernism, an achievement that continues to inspire contemporary audiences.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Inspired landscape painter George Inness (1825-94) was born in New York State's beautiful Hudson Valley and could easily have been part of the world-renowned Hudson River School. Instead, as Bell argues so persuasively in this rare, invaluable, and luminously illustrated monograph, Inness was far more concerned with metaphysics than with representational depictions of nature. Sojourns in Europe brought him into sympathy with the emotionalism and painterly practices of the Barbizon School, Bell writes, but the most crucial influence on his later work was his immersion in the writings of Swedenborg, which inspired him to paint landscapes emblematic of the Swedenborgian vision of spiritual influx, that is, the infusion of divinity into nature. Psychologist and philosopher William James also shaped Inness' meditative aesthetics with his vision of consciousness as a stream of thought and his observation of how mystical experiences soften nature's outlines and open out the strangest possibilities and perspectives. The latter provides a perfect description for Inness' transcendent landscapes--gorgeous and radiant scenes that embody life's interconnectivity, mystery, timeless beauty, and untarnished hope. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Library Journal Review

American landscape painting in the mid-19th century came to embody the desires and hopes of a young and growing nation. In particular, the so-called Hudson River School of Painters became recognized as practitioners of the first truly national style of painting. Two new exhibition catalogs explore aspects of 19th-century American landscape painting from distinctly different viewpoints. George Inness and the Visionary Landscape accompanies an exhibition organized by the National Academy of Design Museum and is skillfully written by the show's guest curator. A Ph.D. candidate in art history at Columbia University, Bell concentrates on Inness's (1825-94) aspiration to "resolve" theology into the "scientific form" of landscape painting. Bell examines Inness's highly intellectual ideas of landscape painting and distills them down, examining several major influences: the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, Luminism, consciousness and stream-of-thought theories, and the science of geometric shapes and patterns. Bell's essay and catalog entries are fresh and illuminating, and the exhibition's 40 paintings from Inness's mid- to late career are beautifully reproduced. Both the book and the show are not to be missed. Hudson River School is an exhibition catalog that accompanies the Wadsworth Atheneum's collection as it travels across the country throughout 2004-06. The book contains an introductory essay, short artist biographies, and catalog entries ably written by Kornhauser (deputy director & chief curator, Wadsworth Atheneum), as well as full-color reproductions of each of the 57 paintings in the show. While the Wadsworth Atheneum's collection of Hudson River School paintings is certainly impressive and includes over 25 paintings by Bierstadt, Church, and Cole, this work adds little to the two-volume American Paintings Before 1945 in the Wadsworth Atheneum, penned by Kornhauser in 1996. Best suited to public libraries that do not own the earlier collection catalog.-Kraig A. Binkowski, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

George Inness (1825-94) would have been a theologian if painting had not consumed him. Indeed, the two merged in his moody, brushy landscapes. Whether capturing the storms, snows, or sunsets of Montclair, New Jersey, or monks, peasants, and olive trees in the Roman campagna, Inness infused each brushstroke with a Swedenborgian "divine influx." Inness distinguished his art as one less concerned with material accuracy than with conveying "the impressions of a personal vital force." Bell's handsomely illustrated, eloquently written, and well-documented text considerably expands previous scholarship on how Inness embodied his landscapes with Swedenborgian divine love and wisdom. Significantly, Bell discusses how William James's innovative theories on consciousness as "a stream of thought" and the subjectivity of religious experience find clear expression in Inness's art. Bell truly demonstrates how paintings manifest mystical states of becoming in Inness's use of synoptic form, anonymous figures, and every twist of the brush. Bell masterfully integrates philosophical summaries with detailed analyses of color subtleties, spatial ambiguities, geometric compositions, and brushstroke differences. Her distinctions between Inness and the so-called luminists ignore evolution within individual styles (e.g., Kensett), but this is a minor criticism of a first-rate study. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through faculty. J. Simon University of Georgia