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The Coming Storm

On view

The Coming Storm

Artist: George Inness (American, 1825 - 1894)

Date: 1878
Medium: Oil on canvas
Framed: 25 x 32 7/8 x 4 1/4in. (63.5 x 83.5 x 10.8cm)
Signed: Lower right: 'G. Inness 1878'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 54.73
Text Entries

The title that this painting now bears, by describing its effect rather than its subject, gracefully and prudently sidesteps the question about which there is considerable confusion—what it depicts. The painting was at one time called In the Berkshires, (1) but because of its similarity to a painting now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum entitled Montclair, New Jersey (2) it has also been said to represent a New Jersey subject, the Watchung Mountains near Montclair, New Jersey.(3) Inness painted in the Berkshires early in his career, and Montclair was his home for roughly the last twenty years of his life, so neither title is grossly implausible. But in fact the painting represents neither western Massachusetts nor New Jersey but the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There is no mistaking its resemblance to paintings Inness made in 1875 and 1876 of White Mountains subjects in the vicinity of North Conway, such as Approaching Storm (Fort Worth Art Museum), Saco River Valley (c. 1899, Henry Sampson, New York City), and particularly the great Saco Ford: Conway Meadows of 1876 (Mount Holyoke College Art Museum).(4) More specifically, it corresponds closely to a description of a painting of “the gathering of a storm on the lower flanks of Mote [Moat] Mountain”: On [the] side of the valley . . . are collected great masses of cloud and the vapors that precede the mountain storms, which, descending the upper ridges of the mountain, settle down toward the valley below, and wrap its huge shoulders in obscurity and gloom. Frequently by day the farms and orchards that cover its base are bathed in bright sunshine, while the upper regions of the mountain are hidden by dense and dark thunder-clouds, which roll about it in round masses dun as smoke.(5)

To place the Utica painting geographically is at the same time, and more importantly, to locate it artistically. For in belonging among his White Mountains paintings it belongs with some of the finest, the most stirring and beautiful landscapes that Inness—or any other American painter—ever made.

Inness spent the five years from 1870 to 1875 in Europe, chiefly in Italy. He returned to America in February 1875, and by March he had settled in Medfield, Massachusetts (where he lived several years in the early 1860s) and took a studio in Boston. By late May he was in North Conway, New Hampshire, where, staying in the newly opened Kearsarge House and using an old schoolhouse as his studio, he remained into September. Inness was not the first to discover the pictorial possibilities of the White Mountains—they had long been one of the most popular painting-grounds and natural sites in America—and, in fact, he had never before taken any interest in dramatic mountain scenery. Precisely what awakened that interest in 1875 we do not know. Perhaps he was prepared by experiences of Alpine landscape in Italy, perhaps he hoped to capitalize commercially on the popularity of the White Mountains, or perhaps it was simply because the region had recently been opened to the railroad (which stopped virtually at the door of the Kearsarge House).

But if we do not know the cause of his interest, there is no doubt about its consequences: Inness’s summer at North Conway resulted in some of his most impressive paintings, works of majestic conception, dramatic chiaroscuro, and turbulent energy. A writer in Appleton’s Journal in 1875 described the special mixture in them of description and expression, perception and conception: Mr. Inness is best known by the strength and richness of his coloring and by strong contrasts of light and shadow. His paintings each represent a sentiment or a passion, “Nature passed through the alembic of humanity,” as Emerson says. Yet his pictures are by no means ideal conceptions of Nature, and, were it not that the artistic instinct and the human feeling which dominate them were so much more impressive than their realistic forms, the beholder would suppose that he painted only for the pleasure of reproducing a daguerreotype likeness of natural objects.(6)




1. LeRoy Ireland, The Works of George Inness (Austin, London: University of Texas Press, 1965), p. 216, no. 867. The painting was acquired by the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art in 1954 as In the Berkshires; in 1965 Edward H. Dwight, director of the museum, changed the title to The Coming Storm, in time to have it published with the alternate title in Ireland’s catalog.

2. Ireland, p. 289, no. 1166.

3. The suggestion is by Kathryn Gamble, the former director of the Montclair Art Museum, in a letter to Edward H. Dwight, March 3, 1964, on deposit in the Inness curatorial file at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. Montclair, New Jersey is the title the Cleveland painting was given in the catalog of the 1904. executor’s sale of the estate of Mrs. Elizabeth Inness. Like most of the works in that sale, however, this painting and hence its title—have, in my opinion (but for reasons that cannot be argued here), a very uncertain claim to authority.

4. Ireland, p. 175, no. 712; p. 182, no. 741; and p. 192, no. 775 respectively.

5. “The Arts,” Appleton’s Journal, vol. 14 (September 18, 1875), p. 376.

6. Ibid.

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