A weekend trip to Richmond allowed me to spend a pleasurable afternoon at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, an eclectic collection, with everything other than the special exhibits free to the public, 365 days a year.
It is particularly strong in American Art, a favorite of mine. And as is my wont, I went in search of George Inness, finding three canvases. An idiosyncratic painter, and these expanded my sense of him. Many threads come together in his work–painterly values as an American Barbizon painter (rural, often pastoral subjects, rendered with glowing colors, tending towards realism not impressionism), also there’s a hard to fathom spiritual subtext, apparently tied to Swedenborg, a mystical theologian who exerted a fascination on Kant, and also the senior Henry James. And although mostly a landscape painter, Innes apparently made up many of these locations, or at least radically adjusted the details, frequently finishing the work in the studio.
Mostly the paintings seem mysteriously beautiful to me. This started with a pull towards October Noon at the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, where everything, including the title of the painting slowly dissolves into something else the longer you look at it.
The three at VMFA didn’t quite evoke that mystery, except perhaps for the ominous trees of Stone Pines; instead they seem quietly epic, like a nineteenth century novel on themes of daily life, where everything hinges on a word or two at sunset.
I will report from my further efforts to see every Inness canvas on view; having a pet artistic quest like this can add a bit to museum going. (See under “all the Vermeers in New York.)
Another thing I am always on the look out for is Raku ware, ceramic tea vessels of sometimes rustic character. The combination of an earthy, almost primitive feel with use in the extreme refinement of the tea ceremony is endless fascinating.
The VMFA’s 300 year old example is a stunner, not the least because it could have been created yesterday.