In 1875, Inness returned to the United States after spending nearly five years in Italy and France. During the summer of that year, in an attempt to reestablish his reputation as a painter of American landscapes, he visited the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which had come to rival the...
In 1875, Inness returned to the United States after spending nearly five years in Italy and France. During the summer of that year, in an attempt to reestablish his reputation as a painter of American landscapes, he visited the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which had come to rival the Catskill Mountains in New York as a magnet for artists and vacationers. Inness spent from May until September in North Conway, on the eastern border of New Hampshire, and worked in a studio in the second floor of an old schoolhouse. There he executed finished pictures suitable for exhibition, including The Church Spire [20.1863], from his field sketches and compositional notes. This painting has been known by the title Kearsarge Village since it was given to the MFA in 1930; the scene has more recently been identified as Humphrey’s Ledge, north of North Conway, with the Saco River in the middle ground. Inness depicted a summer storm moving through the picturesque valley known as the Intervale, which is the bottomland of the Saco River. The theme of nature in a moment of dramatic change appealed to Inness, and he depicted it often; such subjects had also been popular with Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, and other mid-century American landscape painters. But Inness’s treatment of the subject also reflects his exposure to French Barbizon painting during his stay in Paris in 1874. Rather than concentrating on the topographical details and atmospheric effects that appealed to Hudson River School artists, Inness used the intense and rapidly changing light of a thunderstorm as the basis for his experiments with color and composition. The picture also reflects his awareness of new developments in the study of color and could be considered an exploration of the color green: Inness built his composition around successive variations on the color, from the deep gray-green of the pine trees in the foreground to the paler hue of the stand of birch trees in the middle distance and the startling turquoise of the river. The color blue is a subsidiary theme: the dark blue-black of the storm clouds at left is juxtaposed with the brighter tone of the patches of blue sky at right, painted over the clouds in a single broad stroke. The compositional sketch for this painting is the misnamed November in the Adirondacks (location unknown). Near Kearsarge Village may have been the canvas shown in the Boston Art Club’s 1876 exhibition under the title Ledge, Morte Mount, N. Conway. Although one critic found it “unpleasant,” another called it “the most striking landscape of New Hampshire scenery shown here this season.”  Notes 1. I am grateful to John J. Henderson and Roger Belson for help in identifying the view. Roger E. Belson to Janet L. Comey, October 7, 2008, curatorial files, Department of Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 2. Morte Mount is probably a misspelling of Moat Mountain (sometimes spelled Mote), another series of ledges in the North Conway area. 3. “Art in Boston; The Pictures Shown at the Art Club’s Exhibition,” The Evening Post (New York), January 26, 1876, 1. The text was adapted and expanded by Janet L. Comey from Carol Troyen, The Boston Tradition: American Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,exh. cat.(New York: American Federation of Arts, 1980).
Lower right: G. Inness 1875
1875, the artist. Mary Thacher (1888-1956), Boston and Yarmouth Port, Mass.; 1930, gift of Mary Thacher to the MFA. (Accession Date: February 6, 1930)
Gift of Miss Mary Thacher in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Henry C. Thacher and Miss Martha Thacher