George Inness (1825 – 1894): The Lackawanna Valley, c4/19/2021, 5:23:02 PM
George Inness (1825 – 1894): The Lackawanna Valley, c. 1856, oil on canvas, 86 x 127.5 cm, National Gallery of Art , Washington, D.C. George Inness's atmospheric, illustrative compositions represent a vital contribution to nineteenth-century North American landscape painting. At the same time Inness is noteworthy for his resistance to many of the generic trappings associated with that era. Whereas contemporaries such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church forged a distinctively American approach to the Romantic landscape, Inness was interested in exploring and turning to new effect the European Romantic origins of their work. His early works, in their soft brushwork and emphasis of light and tonal effects, suggest the proto-Impressionism of Camille Corot, and were directly influenced by the French Barbizon School. This is one of Inness's earliest pieces, produced while he was still a struggling young artist for the first president of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad. Inness was paid $75 for the composition, which includes a mixture of pastoral and industrial elements. A picturesque scene of fields on the outskirts of Scranton, Pennsylvania is cut through with the tracks of the growing railroad. In the foreground we see stumps of trees felled to make way for progress, and the figure of a reclining man looking on at the approaching train. Two sets of track meet in the middle, leading the eye to the steam engine and its roundhouse beyond. Beyond this, the eye is drawn to the steeple of a church, picked out in black beyond the white locomotive steam, while further afield the gentle Pennsylvanian hills are rendered in calming blues and purples. The scene and colour palette are calm and harmonious, but the scarred tree trunks in the foreground, emerging from the earth almost like marks of disease, raise questions about the artist's message.