George Inness: L'Ariccia
By Kristina Rosenberg, Education Director
Painted in 1874, the Timken’s L’Ariccia is a lovely example of Inness’ Italian subjects created during his second trip to Italy (1870-74).
The painting, which is included in the Timken’s upcoming exhibition George Inness in Italy, is a topographical view of southeast Ariccia, a town located in the Province of Rome between Lakes Albano and Nemi. For the expansive composition the artist chose a view from the east showing the long stretch of bridge of the ancient Appian Way in the foreground and the dome and apsidal towers of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s church of Santa Maria dell’Assunzione in the background.
George Inness, a canonical figure in American painting, was born in Newburgh, New York, in 1825 and raised in New York City and Newark, New Jersey. The artist had little formal academic or artistic education and was largely self-taught. He studied with John Jesse Barker, who claimed to be a student of Thomas Sully, and between 1841 and 1843 Inness was apprenticed to the engravers Sherman & Smith in New York. More significant seems to have been his work with the French-born landscape painter Régis-François Gignoux, a student of Paul Delaroche. Gignoux seems to have had little influence on the development of Inness’ style but he provided him with a knowledge and appreciation of the art of the European masters. Inness was especially inspired by Claude Lorrain, the greatest of all ideal landscape painters, whose work is also on view at the Timken.
Inness first visited Italy from 1851-52. In 1853, he returned to Europe for two years. He visited France, where he experienced the Barbizon school of landscape painting, which had a decisive influence on his art. The Barbizon style became pronounced in his work after 1860, when he moved from New York - home to the dominant Hudson River school of landscape painting - to Medfield, Massachusetts. He then moved to Eagleswood, New Jersey, where he began to study the teachings of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg who believed in the constant presence of the spiritual realm in the observable world. In 1870, encouraged by his Boston dealer, Williams & Everett, Inness travelled to Europe a second time. He settled in Rome on the via Sistina, near the Spanish Steps, where Claude was believed to have worked. Although he traveled widely, he painted primarily in Rome and its surroundings, visiting the neighboring towns of Genzano, Castel Gandolfo, Ariccia, and Albano. The region was a popular tourist attraction and fellow Americans, who had visited the area, would purchase paintings like L’Ariccia back home.
Only about an hour away from Rome by train, hilltop towns like Ariccia offered panoramas of mist-softened valleys similar to the views favored by Hudson River School painters. Unlike America, however, the Italian landscape included remnants of classical architecture - ancient bridges and viaducts - that spanned the rolling landscape creating complex graphic patterns that must have appealed to Inness.
In the Timken painting, the artist creates a well-balanced composition by setting off the horizontal stone viaduct in the foreground with the uneven diagonal of the hill on which the rosy beige and white buildings of the town emerge. The gleaming dome of the church that crowns the town reiterates the arches of the foreground viaduct as well as the crescent moon in the upper left. By choosing an elevated vantage point the artist creates a telescopic effect that allows the viewer to see all the way to the misty blue horizon of the Mediterranean that’s spread out underneath a beautiful opalescent sky. Patrons can see this view for themselves by traveling to Italy with the Timken this fall.
Painted shortly before his return to America, L’Ariccia is one of the best canvases the artist produced during his second Italian sojourn. The painting goes beyond the representation of mere scenery to offer a quiet sensibility of past ages that would lead to the increasingly allusive, expressive, and almost mystical character of his later art.