George Inness (1825 – 1894) was one of the top American landscape painters known for his ability to depict atmosphere, mood and emotion through his paintings.
His paintings are very unique and few artists seem to have been able to produce some atmospheric displays. He was a figurehead of what is known as the tonalist movement.
The tonalist movement was defined by atmospheric landscapes which were painted with dark and often dull tones.
What I love about many of George Inness’ paintings is the contrast between areas of atmospheric and soft color and more delicate areas of detail and saturated color.
To give you an idea of George Inness’ mindset and thoughts on painting, here are some of his quotes:
“The greatness of art is not in the display of knowledge, or in material accuracy, but in the distinctness with which it conveys the impressions of a personal vital force, that acts spontaneously, without fear or hesitation.”
“We are all the subjects of impressions, and some of us seek to convey the impressions to others. In the art of communicating impressions lies the power of generalizing without losing the logical connection of parts to the whole which satisfies the mind.”
“The true end of art is not to imitate a fixed material condition, but to represent a living emotion.”
“The purpose of the painter is simply to reproduce in other minds the impression which a scene has made upon him. A work of art does not appeal to the intellect. It does not appeal to the moral sense. Its aim is not to instruct, not to edify, but to awaken an emotion.”
I think these quotes indicate why Inness was able to create paintings with such an ethereal and atmospheric quality. He did not seem focused so much on the perfect rendering of scenes but instead merely translating how he felt. With that being said, his paintings are remarkably complex in a technical sense.
One thing to learn from Inness is that technical knowledge alone will not allow you to create beautiful art. You also need to understand how people interpret things. If you do not understand how the human mind works and how we interpret things, then you will not be able to connect with people through your paintings.
Let’s take a look at some of his beautiful paintings.
How Did Inness Create Such Luminous Paintings?
One of the fascinating things about George Inness’ paintings is how he was able to portray light with such luminosity.
Portraying light is difficult in paintings as we are not able to actually paint light. All we can do is paint the illusion of light.
Take a look at this painting:
Let’s analyze this painting to try and determine how he created such a luminous sunset.
First, here is the painting in grayscale so we can clearly see the balance between light and dark (often referred to as notan). Observe the sharp contrast between the very dark values and the mid-high values.
Now, let’s take a look at the colors used.
For the darks, he used very dark greens (almost black).
Above the darks, Inness started to work into dark oranges and reds.
Finally, for the lightest parts of the painting Inness used very high saturation yellows and oranges.
Overall, this is a remarkably simple color palette, but it produces some stunning results.
I hope you enjoyed these paintings. I recommend you read more about his story as you can learn much from him.
Want to Learn More?
You might be interested in my Painting Academy course. I’ll walk you through the time-tested fundamentals of painting. It’s perfect for absolute beginner to intermediate painters.
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