George Inness (American, 1825–1894),
oil on canvas, 10 x 14 in.; 25.4 x 35.56 cm
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John F. Merriam, 1972.59
Though trained in the style of the Hudson River School, George Inness early on abandoned its doctrine of detailed, representational views of nature in favor of a more spiritual approach to painting. Like many artists — both American and European — in the second half of the nineteenth century, Inness became increasingly concerned with light, atmosphere, and mood at the expense of solid form; he and other artists employed muted colors unified within a controlled tonal range. Consequently this stylistic trend has been labeled “tonalism.”
Approaching Storm is a more mature expression of Inness's style. The painting dates from the time he was becoming interested in Swedenborgain mysticism and rejecting topographical landscape. In this work a white house amidst the trees catches a beam of sunlight piercing through the clouds while cows graze in the field, unmindful of the storm about to break. Here Inness has abandoned the spatial devices seen in his earlier paintings. Rather, he emphasized a mood, by using an umber tone throughout the painting to create a sense of foreboding. In the following years, Inness cast off the restrictions of landscape painting as it had been practiced by Thomas Cole and most of the Hudson River School. His art became less concerned with recording visual facts than with the exploration of color and mood.