switch views:
  • view lightbox
  • view single item
  • view list

George Inness

Born: 1825, (near) Newburgh, New York, United States of America
Died: 1894, Bridge of Allan, Scotland

Sunset, Etretat
1892

Oil on canvas
Image: 30 3/16 × 45 1/8in. (76.7 × 114.6cm)
Frame: 40 1/4 × 55 11/16 × 4 3/4in. (102.2 × 141.4 × 12.1cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1993.4
Signed: Bottom center: G. Inness 1892
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

George Inness’s late painting Sunset, Etretat is a dramatic view of the French coastline near Etretat, in the Atlantic coastal province of Normandy, as the sun sets beyond one of several natural arches that bridge the shoreline of steep white cliffs. The sky is tinted blood-red through storm clouds that harmonize with the violence of the foam-capped sea waves. A small fishing boat, its sail apparently flapping in disarray, seems in danger; in contrast, the rocky shore, dotted with resting gulls, suggest nature’s impassive disregard of human peril. The painting’s heavily worked surface and dramatic color scheme remove the image from a specific narrative, however, while embodying the tumult of conflicting spiritual states: passionate hope and plunging despair.

Etretat’s dramatic white cliffs and natural arches had long attracted painters. Inness visited the region in 1874 as he neared the end of five years abroad—his third trip to Europe. Around that time he painted more than twenty views of Etretat, including two sunset views of the distinctive high arch and needle seen here. This work, however, was made nearly two decades afterwards, probably in the artist’s Montclair, New Jersey, studio from sketches or memory. It is among the last of his many images of Etretat, one of two such works painted in 1892, two years before the illnesses that had long plagued him claimed his life at age sixty-nine. Inness’s late landscapes are characterized by an almost mystical calm; Sunset, Etretat is exceptional in its turbulent subject and emotional drama.

In returning artistically to Etretat, Inness did more than revisit memories of a favorite landscape site. Sunset, Etretat seems a conscious meditation on the closing of the artist’s own journey through life, during which he had battled poverty, precarious health, and critical dismissal. On the distinctive geography of Etretat Inness imposed the themes of storm and sunset, natural states that embody opposing emotions of despair and resignation in the face of life’s end. The storm-tossed boat, in particular, has long symbolized both the stresses of life and uncertain faith. The drama of transient weather and time, as well as the arriving boat itself, also served as a metaphor for Inness’s artistic approach, specifically his deep conviction that artistic creation was realized as much through process as product. Regarding his paintings as works in progress—even if they had been purchased from him long ago—Inness applied paint gesturally, leaving the marks of his creative process as intrinsic elements of his works. In Sunset, Etretat Inness not only pictures storm and sunset but evokes them through the violent energy of color and manipulated paint. The painting demonstrates the artist’s theory of correspondences—between objective and subjective content, technique and image—which he derived from the theology of eighteenth-century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, who posited a mystical correspondence between the realms of the spiritual and material worlds. In such late works as Sunset, Etretat the artist unified his religious and artistic convictions, subordinating nature and representation to pure emotion and mood.

Return to top

Provenance

The artist
James W. Ellsworth, New York, New York
Bernon S. Prentice, New York, New York and Holmden, New Jersey
Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, New York, April 19, 1952, lot 671
M. Knoedler & Company, New York, New York
John Astor Estate, 1965
Sotheby's New York, New York, December 3, 1992, lot 43
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York, 1992
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1993

Return to top

Exhibition History

A Half Century of Landscape Paintings by George Inness, M. Knoedler & Company, New York, New York, November 1953, no. 25.

Painters by the Sea, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, August–September 1961.

Impressions de toujours: les peintres américains en France, 1865–1915 (Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, 1865–1915), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–October 31, 1993; April 1–October 30, 1994; April 1–October 31, 1995. [exh. cat.]

Giverny: une impression américaine (Giverny, An American Impression), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–November 1, 1998.

Rivières et rivages: les artistes américains, 1850–1900 (Waves and Waterways: American Perspectives, 1850–1900), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, April 1–October 31, 2000. [exh. cat.]

Deux collections en regard: oeuvres de la Terra Foundation for the Arts et du Detroit Institute of Arts (Side by Side: Works from the Terra Foundation for the Arts and the Detroit Institute of Arts), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, March 2–June 1, 2003. [exh. cat.]

Le Passage à Paris: les artistes américains en France, 1860–1930 (Passing through Paris: American Artists in France, 1860–1930), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, April 1–October 31, 2005. [exh. brochure]

Le Passage à Paris: les artistes américains en France, 1860–1930 (Passing through Paris: American Artists in France, 1860–1930), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, April 1–October 29, 2006. [exh. brochure]

Return to top

Published References

Daingerfield, Elliot. Fifty Paintings by George Inness. New York, 1913. Pl. 40.

Inness, Jr., George. Life, Art and Letters of George Inness. New York, 1917. Ill. p. 243.

Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, New York (April 19, 1952): lot 671. Ill. lot 671.

Breuning, Margaret. "George Inness: A New Vision of Landscape." Art Digest (November 15, 1953): 18. Ill. p. 18.

Ireland, LeRoy. The Works of George Inness: An Illustrated Catalog Raisonné. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1965. Cat. no. 1429, p. 369 (black & white).

Sotheby's New York, New York (Sale 6373, December 3, 1992): lot 43. Ill. lot 43 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. Waves and Waterways: American Perspectives, 1850–1900. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Text pp. 17, 27 (checklist); fig. 9, p. 17 (black & white).

Cartwright, Derrick R. Rivières et rivages: les artistes américains, 1850–1900. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Text pp. 17, 27 (checklist); fig. 9, p. 17 (black & white).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. An American Point of View: The Daniel J. Terra Collection. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text p. 78; ill. p. 78 (black & white).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. Un regard transatlantique. La collection d'art américain de Daniel J. Terra. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text p. 78; ill. p. 78 (black & white).

Griffith, Bronwyn A. E. Passing Through Paris: Americans in France, 1860–1930. (exh. brochure, Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2005. Text n.p.; fig. 1, n.p. (color).

Griffith, Bronwyn A. E. Le Passage à Paris: les artistes américains en France, 1860–1930. (exh. brochure, Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2005. Text n.p.; fig. 1, n.p. (color). Quick, Michael. George Inness: A Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Two. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007. Text pp. 362-363. Cat. no. 1057, p. 362 (black & white); plate 223 (color, as Sunset, Coast of Etretat).

Cartwright, Derrick R. Monet's Étretat: Destination and Motif. (exh. brochure,Timken Museum of Art). San Diego, California: Timken Museum of Art, 2017. Text, n.p.; ill. fig. 5, n.p. (color).

Return to top

Sign on