George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley

Inness captures a tension between industrial progress and its effect on the American landscape.

George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley, c. 1856, oil on canvas, 86 x 127.5 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Speakers: Dr. Bryan Zygmont and Dr. Beth Harris

Many thanks due to Barbara Novak:

So it is with shock that we find a train forcing its way toward us out of the middle distance to become the main protagonist in George Inness’s Lackwanna Valley. This is one of the most puzzling pictures in American art, as well as one that aptly embodies the moment of juncture between nature and civilisation. To the left are tall, graceful trees, placed precisely where Claudian convention dictates, complete with reclining figure, and symbolising the pastoral mode. But the busily smoking locomotive approaching from the right centre suggests the elegaic mood is transitory if not illusory. The foreground is scattered wit the stumps of trees, to a degree that gives the picture a somewhat “documentary” look….Yet some of the shock of this picture—and it is I think a shocking picture—is due to the fact that the pastoral ideal has been so rudely treated. In Durand’s ambitions Progress, painted two years earlier, the accommodation, while not fully convincing is less abrupt.Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825–1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 149.

This work at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

George Inness on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Industrialization and Conflict in America: 1840–1875 on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Barbara Novack, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825–1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).

Barbara Novack, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience (New York: Praeger, 1969).

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Cite this page as: Dr. Bryan Zygmont and Dr. Beth Harris, "George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley," in Smarthistory, April 18, 2024, accessed July 22, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/george-inness-the-lackawanna-valley/.