George Inness, one of America's foremost landscape painters of the late nineteenth century, was born in 1825 near Newburgh, New York. He spent most of his childhood in Newark, New Jersey. He was apprenticed to an engraving firm until 1843, when he studied art in New York with a French landscape painter from whom he learned the classical styles and techniques of the Old Masters. In 1851, sponsored by a patron, Inness made a fifteen-month trip to Italy. In 1853 he traveled to France, where he discovered Barbizon landscape painting, leading him to adopt a style that used looser, sketchier brushwork and more open compositions, emphasizing the expressive qualities of nature.
After working in New York from 1854 to 1859, he moved to Medfield, Massachusetts, and four years later to New Jersey, where through a fellow painter he began to experiment with using glazes that would allow him to fill his compositions with subtle effects of light. Duncan Phillips remarked on Inness’s mellow light as a unifying force, saying, “…he was equipped to modernize the grand manner of Claude and to apply the methods of Barbizon to American subjects."
At this time also, Inness developed an interest in the religious theories of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century theologian who believed that all material things were imbued with spiritual presence and who proposed a philosophy in which earthly and heavenly realms are united. Inness's paintings throughout the decade of the 1860s showed sweeping, panoramic views of the Catskills, the Delaware Valley, or the New Jersey countryside. Despite their varying locales, these scenes share a spiritual expressiveness in the portrayal of nature’s moods, for example, dramatic effects of weather and atmosphere. In Inness’s mature paintings, the forms of the landscape become indistinct, hazy, abstracted, suggesting an existence in both material and immaterial worlds.
Inness moved back to New York in 1867 and in 1868 was elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design, but being an inveterate traveler, he returned to Europe in 1870, living in Rome from 1871 to 1875. Two years later he returned to New York, where he helped found the Society of American Artists. In 1878 he settled in Montclair, New Jersey, but continued to travel and paint misty, poetic, and evocative landscapes. Over the years he went to a variety of locations in the eastern and southern United States, and to Cuba, California, and Mexico. In 1894 Inness made his last trip abroad, visiting France, Germany, and Scotland, where he died. A public funeral was held in New York at the National Academy, which also held a large exhibition of his paintings that same year.