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Trout Fishing in Sullivan County, New York

Not on view

Trout Fishing in Sullivan County, New York

Artist: Henry Inman (American, 1801-1846)

Date: 1840-1841
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Framed: 31 1/2 x 37 x 3in. (80 x 94 x 7.6cm)
Image: 25 1/8 x 30in. (63.8 x 76.2cm)
Signed: Lower left: "'H. Inman"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 83.14
Text Entries

I remember going round your exhibition of the National Academy at Clinton Hall in New York, and seeing a fine landscape, I asked, “Who painted this?” The answer was, “Inman.” Then I came to a beautiful group of figures— “Ah, this is very clever—let us see whose this is. ” I looked at my catalogue,— “Inman. ” Then some Indians caught my eye—catalogue again— “Inman.” A little further on, and I exclaimed, “By George, here is the finest miniature I have seen for many a day!” It was a lady in black, “Who is this miniature painter?” “Inman.” His large portraits I was acquainted with, but this variety of style took me altogether by surprise.( 1)

Thomas Sully’s description of his reaction to the work of his New York colleague, Henry Inman, is probably the most quoted evaluation of Inman’s career made during his lifetime or afterward. Sully, as supreme in Philadelphia portraiture as Inman was in New York, here focuses on Inman’s extreme versatility—extremely unusual at a time when painters tended to specialize in a single genre or at least achieved their primary success in one or another theme. Enjoying far greater longevity and being equally productive, Sully had a much greater oeuvre than Inman; Sully, too, explored a variety of subjects, but he never garnered the acclaim for such variety in his work.

Despite such a reputation, however, Inman was primarily a painter of life-size oil portraits. Despite the occasional masterwork by such of his colleagues as Samuel F.B. Morse, who provided New York’s City Hall with his great full-length likeness of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825-26, Inman was New York’s finest portrait painter between c. 1825 and his early death at the beginning of 1846. Inman’s career as a miniaturist was pretty well confined to his beginning years in the 1820s; and his excursions into landscape, genre, and literary paintings were few and sporadic, most of the better known of these being painted in the later years of his life, although Sully’s reminiscence must be from the early 1830s, after the Academy moved to Clinton Hall in 1831. I have dealt elsewhere with Inman’s genre paintings, which, though few in number, garnered a good deal of notice due to their reproduction in the popular gift books of the period.(2) Inman’s interest and accomplishment in landscape painting are also attested to in several of his literary and genre pictures, most notably his now unlocated Lake of the Dismal Swamp and his 1845 Dismissal from School on an October Afternoon (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

“Pure” landscape paintings by him—that is, pictures in which the enjoyment of Nature for its own sake rather than as an appropriate setting for figural activity is the primary motivation—are exceedingly rare; among the best known were several he painted on his only trip abroad, when he visited England, in 1844-45, and painted the scenery at Rydal Mount, the home of William Wordsworth, as well as a fine portrait of the great poet. The present example, Trout Fishing in Sullivan County, New York, was probably the most acclaimed in its time and is also the most auto-biographical, since Inman was almost as well known for his piscatorial enthusiasm as he was for his artistry. The format of the painting suggests the work of his contemporary, Thomas Doughty, who often placed a small fisherman within an otherwise tranquil wilderness setting, which emphasized Nature’s grandeur. Doughty’s figures, however, may be merely contemplative or may actually be fishing, but they function primarily as surrogates for the viewer. In Inman’s painting the figures are not only more actively engaged in several aspects of the sport, but they are quite specifically defined and may even be identifiable. In June of 1841, Inman spent time fishing in Sullivan County with his close friend and fellow sportsman Richard T. Fosdick. Since the present work was painted the previous winter, it most probably documents a similar fishing trip made the previous year when Fosdick and Inman are known to have fished together. The boy seated on the bank by the principal fisherman appears to be about twelve years old and may represent Inman’s son, the future painter John O’Brien Inman, born in 1828.(3)

By and large, Inman’s picture was well received when it was exhibited at the sixteenth annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design, which opened on May 3, 1841, although several critics deemed the palette “too green,” a not uncommon criticism of his work. Again, his versatility was noted and confirmed, for the present landscape was accompanied by both portraits and the first of his series of mature genre pictures of the 1840s, his Dickensian The Newsboy (Addison Gallery of American Art).(4) The picture appeared at the third Boston Artists’ Association exhibition in 1844, again in New York at the Inman Memorial Exhibition held at the rooms of the American Art-Union in February of 1846, and at the annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1847. In the Memorial Exhibition the picture was again much admired, and the propitious union of the late, lamented artist’s primary vocation and avocation was justly noted.(5)

Notes

1. William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (New York: 1834; new ed., New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1965), vol. 3, pp. 137-38.

2. William H. Gerdts, “Henry Inman, Genre Painter,” American Art Journal, vol. 9 (May 1977), pp. 26-48.

3. Thomas Picton, “Old Time Disciples of Rod and Gun,” The Rod and Gun, vol. 7 (February 12, 1876), p. 313. Picton notes that among the favorite areas chosen by Fosdick, Inman, and their companions in Sullivan County for trout fishing were Beaver Kill and the Willowwhemack (now Willowemac) rivers in the northeast corner of the county. It is very possible that the topography of Inman’s painting can be documented to that region.

4. “The Fine Arts. National Academy of Design. First Notice,” New-York Mirror, vol. 19 (May 15, 184.1), p. 159; “National Academy of Design. Sixteenth Annual Exhibition,” New York Express, May 18, 1841 [p. 2]; “The Fine Arts. Exhibition of the Academy,”Arcturus, vol. 2 (June 1841), pp. 60-61; “Editor’s Table. The Fine Arts,” Knickerbocker, vol. 18 (July 1841), p. 87.

5. “Fine Arts. Inman Gallery,” Anglo-American, vol. 6 (February 14, 1846), p. 403; “The Inman Gallery,” Littell’s Living Age, vol. 9 (April 184.6), p. 19.

 

 

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