Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cedar Grove: The Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Cole's palette and other tools of the trade, on view in his studio at Cedar Grove. Photo by Mark Thorn. Posted by Hello

Cole's easel is a particular object of veneration in his restored studio. Photo by Mark Thorn. Posted by Hello

Cole's afternoon vista of the Catskills. Photo by Mark Thorn Posted by Hello

The front porch of Cedar Grove, looking west. Photo by Mark Thorn. Posted by Hello
On the day before writing the story below ("That Wilder Image: The Dilemma ofThomas Cole"), Mark Thorn and I visited Cedar Grove, where beginning in 1825 the painter made his summer studio, married, raised, a family and, on February 11, 1848, died. Above is a sampling of Mark's photos taken on site. All appear by courtesy of Cedar Grove: The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, located at 218 Spring Street in the village of Catskill, New York. For additional information go to

--John Thorn

The Architect's Dream, perhaps Cole's greatest disappointment, today seems a triumph. Posted by Hello

That Wilder Image: The Dilemma of Thomas Cole

From "Wake the Echoes," Kingston Times, May 2, 2005:
Thomas Cole, father of the nativist approach to landscape painting called the Hudson River School, never heard that term spoken in his lifetime. It came to be applied to the early nature painters in derision by the ascendant Dusseldorf school painters of the 1870s. A nativist but not a native, Cole was born in Lancashire, England, on February 1, 1801. He arrived on these shores with his parents at Philadelphia on July 3, 1818. There he worked as an engraver’s assistant and then traveled to the West Indies before joining his parents in the textile trade in Steubenville, Ohio in mid-1819. His “western” period included some time in Pittsburgh as well before he returned to Philadelphia in 1824, where he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, drawing from classical casts and old master paintings. But no one detected any glimmer of talent, let alone greatness, until Thomas Cole moved to New York in April 1825.

Living in a garret of his father’s house in Greenwich Street, he produced four pictures that he bravely priced at $10 each and sold them all. This gained for him the interest of a neighboring merchant, George W. Bruen, who paid Cole’s steamboat fare up the Hudson that summer to explore the Catskills. Returning with sketches, Cole executed three paintings that were “exhibited” in the window of Michael Paff’s frame shop at 221 Broadway. Passing by one day John Trumbull, the revered historical painter, was struck by their merit and purchased one, Kaaterskill Upper Fall, Catskill Mountains (now lost) for $25 and invited the young painter to call on him. On his arrival, the elder artist was impressed by Cole’s modesty. “You surprise me,” he said, “at your age to paint like this. You have already done what I, with all my years and experience, am yet unable to do.” This legendary moment has also come down to us as conversation in which Trumbull said to William Dunlap that “this youth [Cole] has done what I have all my life attempted in vain.”

Days later Dunlap purchased another of the paintings in the window, Lake with Dead Trees, also for $25. Asher Durand, who bought the last of the three frame-shop paintings, View of Fort Putnam (lost until the 1990s, when it was found in a warehouse after a fire), said of Cole, “His fame spread like fire.”

Commissions poured in as Trumbull introduced Cole to the city’s small circle of private collectors. Dunlap wrote articles lauding the prodigy’s self-taught technique, the inspired product of his enterprising youth and “Americanness.” He exhibited all three paintings at the American Academy of Fine Arts in autumn. While Durand owned his 1825 Cole until he died in 1886, Dunlap and Trumbull were soon convinced to sell theirs, at a combined price of $125, to Philip Hone, New York’s mayor in 1825-26.

In 1833 Hone would write in his celebrated diary, “I think every American is bound to prove his love of country by admiring Cole.” Cole the nature painter, however, had not yet become a naturalized American. His heart was surely in the American wilderness — in particular the Catskill Mountains and Cedar Grove, the Thomson family home in the village of Catskill where he established his studio (and met his future bride, Thomson niece Maria Bartow) in the epochal summer of 1825. Yet his was a wandering mind, irresistibly drawn to his native Europe, where tastes were elevated and reputations were to be made. Cole wanted to be not the American Turner but a painter whose vision and craft would be foremost in any company.

Bryant had invited Cole and Durand to provide illustrations for The Talisman, a literary annual he started in 1827 and in its third issue, in 1829, he published the following sonnet, entitled “To Cole the Painter on his Departure for Europe”:

Thine eyes shall see the light of distant skies
Yet, Cole, thy heart shall bear to Europe’s strand
A living image of thy native land,
Such as on thine own glorious canvass lies.
Lone lakes - savannahs where the bison roves -
Rocks rich with summer garlands - solemn streams -
Skies where the desert eagle wheels and screams -
Spring bloom and autumn blaze of boundless groves.
Fair scenes shall greet thee where thou goest - fair,
But different - every where the trace of men,
Paths, homes, graves, ruins, from the lowest glen
To where life shrinks from the fierce Alpine air.
Gaze on them, til the tears shall dim thy sight;
But keep that earlier, wilder image bright.

This proved to be the challenge of Cole’s entire career — keeping bright that earlier, wilder image of such rugged paintings as Lake with Dead Trees. Hailed as a pioneering force in American painting, Cole had broken thrillingly from the pastoral tradition, in which serene landscapes had provided aid to contemplation. Touring Europe in 1829-32, he visited Constable’s studio and met Turner, whose paintings he professed to admire (“they appear to me, however, to have an artificial look . . . chiaroscuro, colour, form, should always be subservient to the subject, and never be raised to the dignity of an end”). Cole preferred the style of Salvatore Rosa, whom he had studied as a novice in Philadelphia.

Upon his triumphant return to America Cole began to paint The Course of Empire, the first of his three grandiose historical and allegorical series (the other two were The Voyage of Life and The Cross and the World, uncompleted at his death in 1848). “These idealized landscapes gained him a popular reputation,” Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and Holger Cahill wrote in Art in America, “but they now seem heavily laden with viscous morality.”

The returning hero of American painting was no longer a mere painter, scuffling for commissions. He was a published poet and essayist, an architect (the Ohio State capitol at Columbus is largely his design), a spiritualist, a conservationist. But America in the 1830s was an unpropitious setting for men of genius. There were now two Coles — the emotional and the cerebral, the describer and the prescriber. In a journal entry for May 10, 1838 he wrote:

“This I know, I have the ambition, the desire and industry to do as much as any man has done, the capacity I may not have; that however, has not been fairly tried; no sufficient field has yet opened to me. I do feel that I am not a mere leaf painter. I have higher conceptions than a mere combination of inanimate, uniformed nature. But I am out of place; every thing around, except delightful nature herself, conflicts with my feelings; there are few persons of real taste; and no opportunity for the true artist to develop his powers.”

Cole had made his mark in the wild, but now he felt constricted by it; no primordial wilderness was as vast as the vistas in his mind, and no painting is more illustrative of his conflicted state than The Architect’s Dream, executed for Ithiel Town who, with his partner Alexander Jackson Davis, had shaped the antebellum course of the nation’s architecture. Cole, who fancied himself an architect on Town’s level, had pushed him to approve a grand allegorical scheme on a scale much larger than what Town had in mind. When an appalled Town saw what Cole had wrought, he asked for a do-over, something more on the lines of Claude Lorrain, with manmade elements dotting a terraced natural landscape. After some discussion about litigation, Cole refused to execute another commission for Town, no matter the price, and reclaimed the painting. In storage at Cedar Grove in his lifetime, it emerged to take a place on the north wall of the front parlor after his death.

In a journal entry of May 31, 1841 Cole wrote:

“I am not the painter I should have been had there been a higher taste. Instead of working according to the dictates of feeling and imagination, I have painted to please others, in order to exist. Had fortune favored me a little more than she has, even in spite of the taste of the age, and the country in which I live, my imagination would not have been cramped as it has been….”

For all his accomplishment in founding a truly American style of painting, Cole wished to elevate landscape to a Neoplatonic ideal rather than be elevated by its natural wonder. The Hudson River School followed Cole, yes, but in the path he forsook early on.

--John Thorn

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Kindred Spirits, 1849 Posted by Hello


From the Woodstock Times, may 19, 2005:
Now we know how Egyptians feel about the Rosetta Stone and why the Greeks fume at mention of the Elgin Marbles. Our treasure has been lost, and we — those of us with the Hudson at our backs as we cast our gaze over the Catskills — feel particularly diminished. Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits has been sold down river. In a Sotheby’s auction on behalf of the New York Public Library, the famous landscape was hammered down at $35 million, the largest sum ever paid for an American painting, to Alice L. Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. It is headed for Bentonville, Arkansas, corporate headquarters of the retailing empire, for display at “Crystal Bridges,” a museum scheduled to open in 2009.

Moving a Catskills painting to the Ozarks seems comical, and losing a regional monument hurts. But most of what we are feeling is referred pain, the cultural confirmation of what the marketplace has been telling us for decades now: the small cities, towns, and villages of the Northeast have become vast grazing lands, colonies for plunder by more prosperous sections of the country. We have been losing industry, jobs, population, and brainpower — our children cannot return home from college to work where they grew up — as if we were bathing in a tub with a slow leak, wondering why we are feeling chilled. Our cultural artifacts seep into the heartland via Ebay. The time is not distant when our steepled churches and clapboard and fieldstone houses will survive only as part of a historical theme park for the rest of the nation, a Yosemite of quaint lifestyle and vernacular, a time capsule of an America that used to be.

Writing a profile of Asher Durand in these pages last month*, I suggested that Kindred Spirits is more an important painting than a great one. Commissioned in 1849, it memorialized not only Thomas Cole, the pioneering artist who had died the previous year, and William Cullen Bryant, the poet who delivered his eulogy, but also the American wilderness itself, at a time when it was being threatened by the industrial revolution. From Cedar Grove, his home in the village of Catskill, Cole lamented the pillaging of the hickory forests by the tanning industry, which also polluted his beloved Catskill Creek. Durand’s painting was an exercise in nostalgia, a valedictory for a time fast slipping away when Americans might enjoy a direct spiritual relationship with nature. As Bryant wrote, in “A Forest Hymn”:

The groves were God’s first temples.
Ere man learned
To hew the shaft and lay the architrave
And spread the roof above them--ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
And supplication.

Miss Walton may hope for some of this effect from Moshe Safdie’s design for Crystal Bridges, a glass-and wood construct traversing a stream. Fat chance.

Although the painting’s title references Cole and Bryant, Kindred Spirits might as easily describe the odd couple of art and money, as nettlesome to Cole and Durand in their day as it is stimulating to New York and Arkansas today. Were it not for their common patrons — Luman Reed and Jonathan Sturges — neither painter would have been able to stay at his easel and the nation would today be immeasurably poorer. In fact, it was Reed who kept Cole busy with commissions and Sturges who backed Durand to paint Kindred Spirits as a gift for Bryant. In presenting the picture to him, Sturges wrote:

MY DEAR SIR: Soon after you delivered your oration on the life and death of our lamented friend Cole, I requested Mr. Durand to paint a picture in which he should associate our departed friend and yourself as kindred spirits. I think the design, as well as the execution, will meet your approbation, and I hope that you will accept the picture from me as a token of gratitude for the labor of love performed on that occasion. Very truly yours,

This is very different from buying the paintings of dead artists at auction. Miss Walton is no Sturges or Reed, not even a Medici, no matter her largesse to the New York Public Library via Sotheby or her civic beneficence to Bentonville. A buyer at auction may conspire to benefit art but seldom artists — except insofar as they are safely dead, capping the supply — and thus represent reasonable investment, not rank speculation. An auction-house record may help to validate neglected artists (Roy Lichtenstein, recently) or whole movements (the Hudson River School languished in estimation until 1979, when Frederic Church’s Icebergs brought $2.5 million, then the highest price for an American painting).

For more than a century zealots of all stripes, from the right no less than from the left, have railed against chain stores for choking the local and regional flavor out of American life and squashing indigenous small business. It is hard to imagine today, when we have warm fuzzy feelings at the mention of the vanished five-and-dime, that millions were violently opposed to Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, even Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck. I will not toss historical perspective overboard to excoriate Wal-Mart for its business, real-estate, aesthetic, and labor practices … it is too easy a target.

So what has been gained and what lost, and by whom? Oddly, New York City and its great research library are huge beneficiaries and thus, indirectly, so is the worldwide community of scholars. The New York Public Library is not, after all, a museum, and probably ought not to have held this painting any longer, even though it had been donated by Bryant’s daughter; $35 million will buy a lot of books and research materials, and that is the proper business of the institution. Oh, and those collectors who hold Hudson River School paintings, well, they are winners, at least on paper.

Arkansas and Bentonville are both winners, too, for they will now be on the cultural map; it will be harder to think of L’il Abner as a snap response to a question about Ozark culture. Folks in Bentonville have every right to see good and great art in person; anyway, how many New Yorkers have ever seen Kindred Spirits except in reproduction?

Miss Walton is a winner, because it didn’t dent her pocketbook to place a sealed bid that was way out ahead of the combined effort of the Metropolitan Museum and the National Gallery. Wal-Mart’s heiress is our sad country’s new royalty.

So who are the losers? You and I, neighbor, you and I.

* See story immediately below.

--John Thorn

Friday, May 13, 2005

Distilled Spirit: Asher Durand

Updated from "Wake the Echoes," the Kingston Times, April 28, 2005:
In the first half of April 2005 a headline in the New York Times caught my eye: “New York Public Library to Sell Major Artworks to Raise Funds.” The Library’s president, Paul LeClerc, said that it had little choice but to divest itself of art that might bring $50 to $75 million at auction, given the soaring cost of books, the city and state cutbacks, and the shrinkage of the library’s endowment in a seesaw stock market. Of the nineteen pieces slated to go up at Sotheby’s, including two Gilbert Stuart portraits of George Washington, only one brought to me a pang of regret: Kindred Spirits, a large oil by Asher Durand of his friends Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant that had long adorned the central hall outside Room 315, the main reading room in which I have researched happily for decades.

Now the other shoe has dropped. On May 12, in a silent auction in which the Metroplitan Museum and National Gallery collaborated to form a competitive bid, Kindred Spirits was sold for $35 million, the highest amount ever paid for an American painting, to Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton. She intends to exhibit the painting at a new museum to be completed in 2009 near corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

But Kindred Spirits merits our care not merely for sentimental reasons. Durand painted it in 1849, one year after Bryant had delivered the eulogy at Cole’s funeral. The three had known each other as early as 1825, when Bryant had been a disgruntled lawyer with literary ambition, Cole an aspiring painter new to New York, and Durand an established engraver just coming off a three-year, $3,000 commission to engrave a steel plate from John Trumbull’s painting The Declaration of Independence. In that year Durand, Trumbull, and painter William Dunlap each paid now legendary visits to Cole in his Greenwich Street studio and each, awed by the newcomer’s Turner-like grandeur, came away with a painting under his arm. From this visit may be dated the birth of the Nativist style of landscape painting, even though Cole was not native-born and had no followers until the next decade.

By the time Kindred Spirits was completed, Bryant was now a noted editor, an advocate for the construction of a Central Park in New York, and a poet famous for his deep attachment to nature, particularly in Thanatopsis, a poem so long loved that I was compelled to memorize it in high school. Cole’s gorgeous if sometimes clunkily allegorical landscapes had made him the paramount American artist of his day, creating a craze for the genre in a manifest-destiny-mad nation that had never valued any art but portraiture. And Durand, the featured character in this column (look for Cole and Bryant to follow), had exchanged his graver for the brush in 1836 and was now set to succeed Cole as the spiritual leader of the burgeoning Hudson River School.

Kindred Spirits depicts Cole and Bryant on a rock ledge overlooking two Hudson River shrines, the Kaaterskill Falls and the Kaaterskill Clove, rendered contiguous in the painting as they are not in nature. Although Durand thought of himself as a master of detail, one who delighted in the slightest twists, turns, and gestures of nature, he was not insensitive to hidden meaning: later he would write, “The artist as a poet will have seen more than the mere matter of fact but no more than is there and that another may see if it is pointed out to him.” Yet for Durand to have depicted Cole, in a tribute to his friend’s art, as pointing to an impossible geological construct represents a level of abstraction that might be viewed as prefiguring Picasso.

In truth Durand had long been distilling spirit and meaning from the quotidian press of material existence. We tend to regard him today as a sweetly primitive painter of sylvan glades and bucolic vistas – of a lesser ambition than Cole and Church, less technically accomplished than Kensett and Gifford, and less visionary than Bierstadt and Moran. I suggest, however, that Durand’s journey in art – from the practical craft of engraving through the way stations of portraiture and genre paintings (“fancy subjects,” as they were called in his day) to a depiction of the divine hand at work in landscape – makes him a greater artist than all of these arguably greater painters.

Asher Brown Durand was born in August 21, 1796 in Jefferson Village (now Maplewood), New Jersey. The son of a watchmaker and silversmith, he evinced an early interest in the meticulous flourishes and curlicues his father etched on watchcases and so at age 15 he was apprenticed to engraver Peter Maverick in Newark. Durand soon became a master of his trade, relegating his boss to lettering while he engraved the figures. It is hard to imagine today, but before the advent in 1880 of the halftone process of reproducing photographs, engraved images were the mass media of their era and just about the only way to make money from art, either as the painter of the original or the delineator in copper or steel. Moreover, engraving in the hands of a skilled practitioner was regarded in its day as a fine art, not merely a mechanical one, and thus engravers were invited to join the artistic societies alongside painters and sculptors.

Durand’s commission for the Trumbull plate made his reputation but fractured his partnership with Maverick, in which neither had prospered. The completion of the work in 1823 enabled Durand to take an active part in the New York art community, helping to organize the New-York Drawing Association in 1825 (reconfigured three years later as the National Academy of Design). “His higher aspirations for art were constantly clogged by servile work,” according to an 1880 profile in the Times (unsigned but very likely penned by the artist’s son John), “such as the composition and engraving of business cards…. The human figure, an approach to the nude, in all its chastity, he thought worthy of his skill. There was no model, no painting to copy, so he made a design for himself, engraved it, and, in 1825, the Musidora was produced. It was not appreciated at the time, though today amateurs and print-collectors are eager to obtain it. ‘It never paid me the price of even the copper,’ remarked Durand….”

In 1827 he joined forces with his brother Cyrus, who perfected a geometric lathe for swirling uncopyable linear whirlpools onto banknotes, a venture made profitable by the dissolution of the National Bank two years before and the instant need for every local bank to design its own distinctive currency. (Durand’s influence may still be seen in the vignettes adorning stock certificates, that weird subgenre in which classical elements contend with locomotives, cattle, and power lines.) Prosperity beckoned as demand for his services in the commercial sector grew.

Yet Durand knew by now that his vocation was to be that of a creative artist, not a glorified tradesman. And he longed to test his mettle once more with the human figure. Determined to work from a superior rendition of the nude than the one he had drawn for Musidora, he purchased Vanderlyn’s Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos, exhibited scandalously in New York in 1816 (separate exhibitions for men and for women) and long since under wraps. The result, published in 1835, was Durand the engraver’s masterpiece, in many ways superior to the painting from which it sprang.

“Engraving alone he was sure did not give sufficient outlet,” wrote the Times scribe in 1880. “It was a subsidiary art, which was not called to originate. From its nature it had to be passive. The love of color, which was born in him, wanted another expression than in black and white.” As The New-York Mirror wrote in May 1836, “Mr. Durand has almost relinquished the graver. Perhaps he thinks he cannot go beyond his Ariadne. No one else can.”

With the encouragement of his friend and patron Luman Reed, Durand ended his engraving career. Forty-five years later, he spoke with heartfelt gratitude of Reed, “who first told him to put aside forever the copper and steel plate; to quit the close work-room; and in the wide, broad fields, in the open air, to open his sketch-book, and in it, with a free pencil, catch each twist of limb and each crevice of bark in the spreading oak.” Reed commissioned from Durand portraits of the nation’s first eight Presidents, genre paintings based on Irving’s History of New-York, even panels for the doors to his gallery (Durand painted four and so did Cole). Incredibly, almost all of Luman Reed’s collection may still be viewed in his reconstructed gallery at the New-York Historical Society.

As James Flexner wrote, “portraiture was for Durand, despite his great ability in the mode, only a stepping stone that bridged the gap between his early activity as an engraver and his life’s work as a landscapist.” An 1837 sketching trip to Schroon Lake in the company of Cole confirmed Durand in his allegiance to nature. His whole life long to that point, on Sundays Durand had not attended church, “the better to indulge reflection unrestrained under the high canopy of heaven,” he recalled in later years. “This mode of passing the Sabbath became habitual with me in early life.” Thereafter, as a landscapist he entered into a tacit pact with God to depict His handiwork through his own, the better to apprehend Him.

Durand died on September 17, 1886, on the family property in Maplewood where he had been born 90 years earlier. His long life had been an exemplar of the uniquely American path to spiritualism through pragmatism.

--John Thorn

Monday, May 09, 2005

George Inness, Pastoral Landscape at Sunset, 1884. Oil on canvas. 25 1/2 x 33 3/8 in. The Grey Collection
 Posted by Hello

American Chameleon: Inness Exhibit at Cole House

From the Kingston Times and Saugerties Times, May 5, 2005:
“There was a lofty striving in Cole,” George Inness (1825-94) wrote. “There was in Durand a more intimate feeling of nature. ‘If,’ thought I, ‘these two can be combined, I will try.’” That Inness succeeded in imbuing landscape with sentiment is evident in the fine exhibition of his paintings at Cedar Grove, The Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Opening last weekend, it will remain on view through October 30, and if you care about Inness — or indeed the course of American painting — you cannot miss it.

As with any exhibit mounted in this wonderful restored landmark in the village of Catskill, the exhibited artist must compete with his host, still the paterfamilias of all American painters. The spirit of Cole is everywhere—on the grounds, in the materials and easel in his restored studio, in the sketches and studies on the walls of his home, in the vistas from his porch that inspired him daily. Cedar Grove, built by the Thomson family in 1815, provided Cole with his summer studio by 1826 or so. A decade later he married Maria Bartow, a Thomson niece who had grown up in the house. In 1848 he died there.

Cole’s descendants live at Cedar Grove until the 1960s, and the property endured many misadventures until 1998, when the Greene County Historical Society purchased it and began the restoration process that has produced such remarkable results in so short a time. If you have not visited in the past few years, you have denied yourself a singular pleasure of living in our region.

Given the high interest that this shrine holds for any visitor, credit must be accorded the curator of the present exhibition, Elizabeth Stevens, for mounting a jewel of a show in a room that is an oasis of repose. Although the Inness paintings number only eight, they have been selected with care and are mounted in such a way as to reveal the painter’s flowering in both his craft and in his ever more ethereal depiction of the natural world. Additionally, the technique of his atmospheric landscapes may be compared to that of his fellow friend Ralph Albert Blakelock, whose paintings and palette are on display in the hall outside the Inness exhibit.

On loan to the Cole House from notable institutions and public-spirited individual collectors, the paintings include:
· an undated Landscape from the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College that reflects Inness’s initial leap from Cole and Durand into a Barbizon-influenced luminism;
· the muscular play of light and shade in The Coming Storm, an 1878 oil from the Museum of Art in Utica;
· the mistily religious Pastoral Landscape at Sunset (1884) from the Grey Collection; and
· the undated Sunset in the Catskills, a minuscule oil on canvas that may have been one of the hundreds of barely finished works (“I have never completed my art,” he once proudly declared) sold at a vast auction upon his death in 1894, or in the sale occasioned by the death of his widow ten years later.

Born near Newburgh, New York, Inness was a grocer’s son who, like both Durand and Cole, was steered by his father toward engraving as a practical way to translate his artistic impulses into a livelihood. While his early influences as a painter included Durand and Cole, he appears to have been shaped more strongly by French landscapists such as Corot and Lorrain and the Barbizon painters Rosseau, Millet, and Daubigny. The lighter brushstrokes, the thinner color values of his paints, also made him seem briefly to be part of the second wave of the Hudson River School that included Kensett, Lane, and Silva. Some have even characterized him as an Impressionist, or at least a father figure to such American Impressionists as Childe Hassam, despite his professed disgust with that sort of painting (he also scorned Turner, another to whom he had been compared). Strangely perhaps, the chameleon-like Inness thought of himself as a realist, relying upon “the solidity of objects, and the transparency of shadows in a breathable atmosphere through which we are conscious of spaces and distances.”

In attempting to capture the interaction of the visible and invisible worlds, his greatest influence was in truth neither Cole nor Durand, nor any painter at all, but the eighteenth-century Swedish theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg. The result was that his most “poetic” work may be challenged as theosophical soup ladled thin. “A work of art,” he once said, “is beautiful if the sentiment is beautiful; it is great if the sentiment is vital. Details are to be elaborated only enough to produce the sentiment desired. A picture in which the evident intention has been to reach the truth is the picture that the true artist loves.”

Inness became the landscapist of choice for “refined” parlors from the 1880s to the end of his life, much as Thomas Kinkade has become in our own absurd time, though of course the two may be compared only as commercial phenomena, not as artists. Inness remained the star of the auction houses for years thereafter, until the rediscovery of Church’s Icebergs in the late 1970s sparked a revival of interest in the older Hudson River School.

To read Inness’s spiritual twaddle is to suspect every brushstroke. Fortunately, we will elect to see the work and discount the words. And the selection on view at Cedar Grove is well worth the visit.

Cedar Grove is located at 218 Spring Street in Catskill. It is open Friday though Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm by guided tour. For further details, consult or call 518-943-7465.

--John Thorn