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February 18th, 2011
Museum Presents Survey of George Inness's Italian Landscapes

A central figure in the history of American 19th-century landscape painting, George Inness (1825–1894) made two sojourns to Italy—the first in 1851 to 1852 and the second from 1870 to 1874—during which he followed in the footsteps of the Old Masters in pursuit of a technique that would place him at the forefront of American art. This focused exhibition of 10 significant works is the first to examine the impact of Inness’s experience of Italy and how this significantly influenced his stylistic development over the course of three decades. It will present loans from public and private collections alongside the Museum’s Twilight on the Campagna of around 1851, which, recently conserved and reframed, will be on view for the first time in nearly 60 years.

“We are pleased to have an opportunity to highlight this newly conserved work and to display it together with nine other important landscapes as we explore the profound effect that Italy had on the nature and development of Inness’s art,” said Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art “The research undertaken in conjunction with the treatment of this painting and the new insights gained from the process will be vital for the future conservation of the artist’s early work.”

From his first days in Italy, Inness’s work reveals an immediate and deeply personal engagement with the landscape as well as sensitivity to Italy’s rich artistic traditions.

“Italy was an enormous catalyst in Inness’s life, prompting him to engage fully with the scenes before him in a manner that was increasingly adventuresome, emotive, and poetic,” said Mark Mitchell, Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, who organized the exhibition. “By working from direct observation, he channeled a romantic current in his paintings that made them less stylized and signaled his engagement with the scene before him as well as the Renaissance and Baroque masters to whom he looked for inspiration.”

Inness’s two trips to Italy marked very different moments in his career as he rose to prominence and later pre-eminence in landscape painting, which was already America’s signature genre. During his first trip (1851–52), Inness took inspiration from the same Italian countryside that had inspired the Old Masters, painting such familiar subjects as A Bit of the Roman Aqueduct (1852–53). Twilight on the Campagna, painted during this same period, however, marks a dramatic shift in style as Inness moved away from the conventional format of the pastoral landscape to the creation of sparer, more evocative compositions.

Italy lingered in Inness’s imagination after he returned to the United States in 1852. He continued to paint Italian views during the nearly two decades between his first and second trips, creating works such as St. Peter’s, Rome (1857) from his vivid memories of specific landscapes, and eventually returned to Italy in 1870, remaining there for the next four years. This was the most productive chapter of his career. In the paintings created during this period and in later works inspired by this second trip—including Pines and Olives at Albano (1873) and his last dated Italian subject, Near Perugia, Italy (1879)—Inness continued to develop the atmospheric aesthetic for which he had become so well known and admired. This represented the culmination of years of experimentation that had begun with his arrival in Italy in 1851. The soft focus and diaphanous paint layers that later came to be the defining attributes of tonalist painting were first inspired, and then developed and refined through Inness’s sustained engagement with Italian art and the Italian landscape.

The conservation of Inness’s Twilight on the Campagna has provided both the impetus to re-examine the influence that Italy exerted on Inness’s work throughout his career, as well as an opportunity to understand his early technique more thoroughly. Motivated by the publication of the Inness catalogue raisonné in 2007, the Museum undertook a full-spectrum scientific analysis of the painting, with particular emphasis on its well-preserved surface and unusual shellac varnish layers. The findings of the analysis and subsequent treatment have resuscitated a great work of art in the Museum’s collection and will also offer a resource for the conservation of paintings by this important and innovative artist in the future.

Catalogue: A 60-page illustrated catalogue, written by Mark D. Mitchell, curator of the exhibition, and Judy Dion, conservator of Inness’s Twilight on the Campagna, will be published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The catalogue will be distributed worldwide by Yale University Press.

Itinerary: Philadelphia Museum of Art, February - May 2011
Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, summer 2011
Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, fall 2011

This exhibition is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its Center for America Art, and is supported by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Frank Martucci.

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