Painting creates a different kind of intimacy with its subject, an intimacy not so cozy and naturalistic. We see faces in photos and know they’re faces more or less like ours, in real time. Not so with painting, which is a more fluid medium for expressing spiritual states. Across from the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Timken is featuring ten landscapes by the 19th-century American artist George Inness that demonstrate how he was affected by two periods he spent in Italy, from 1851 to 1852 and from 1870 to 1874. His life’s ambition in art was, as he put it, “not to imitate a fixed material condition but to represent a living motion.” The MOPA photographs storm our senses with human situations and the tyranny of appearances. Inness’s ambition was not to honor appearances but to release nature’s essences into forms.
The most notable picture, the recently restored 1851 Twilight on the Campagna, shows off Inness’s gift for expressing the way physical reality phases from ethereal dimming sunlight to the mineral quiddity of rock and soil. It and the 1873 Pines and Olives at Albano (The Monk) are among his greatest pictures, so having them available at the Timken is an event. Both have Inness’s ticky bushiness and “overhangs” — in Twilight, three tiers of rosy-gold clouds; in Monk, crowns of flat-top cypress trees. Inness liked to say (along with a hundred other landscape artists) that he didn’t paint the things of nature, he painted his feeling, which in the pictures is subtle and intense. He learned much about landscape from Corot, Claude Lorrain, Salvator Rosa, and other Europeans, but his vision was American-Eden style. His pictures have a warm plasticity responsive to whatever he was seeing or remembering, and he was capable of depositing in pigment details of the material world that quiver as if they’re about to evanesce. ■
Face to Face: Works from the Bank of America Collection is on view through September 25 at Museum of Photographic Arts, 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park. 619-238-7559.
George Inness in Italy is on view through September 18 at the Timken Museum, 1500 El Prado, Balboa Park. 619-239-5548.