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Highly Important 1850s Painting of a Railroad and Locomotive
In the mid-1850s the president of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad commissioned one of the nation’s foremost landscape painters, George Inness, to capture his burgeoning rail line on canvas. The president picked Scranton, Pennsylvania, for the setting, and specified that Inness include a roundhouse that was not yet constructed. Other painters previously had made many images of railroads, but they generally submerged the trains in greenery and amidst water features in the tradition of the Hudson River School of painting. Inness, however, put the train and accompanying facilities at the center of the work, placing the “machine in the garden,” to use the phrase made famous by Leo Marx in his book by the same name. In doing so, Inness followed the precepts of Europe’s Barbizon School that emphasized realism and more contrast of light and shadow. The Lackawanna’s president appears to have objected that his train and buildings were not large enough. Whatever he thought, the painting is now considered “by far the most interesting American painting of a railway subject” and hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. For nearly 200 years, railroad subjects have beguiled artists at every level, from fine artists, as in this example, to the most naïve of creators.

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Alternate Title Railroad History in a Nutshell
Source National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Coverage Spatial, Scranton, Pennsylvania; Temporal, c. 1856
Rights National Gallery of Art
Date Created c1856
Resource Type
Extent 47-3/8" by 63-5/8"
Depicted Railroad
Location Scranton, Pennsylvania
Creator Description George Inness (1825-94) was born in Newburgh, New York, and was raised in New York City and Newark, New Jersey. His early life was disrupted by severe illness and he received little formal academic or artistic education. In Newark, he studied with an itinerant painter, John Jesse Barker, and in New York, probably in 1843, with the French-born landscape painter, Régis François Gignoux. Inness visited Italy in 1850. In 1853 he visited France, where he studied French Barbizon landscape painting, admiring especially the most radical of the Barbizon artists, Théodore Rousseau. In 1864, he moved to Eagleswood, New Jersey, and was introduced to the religious teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, whose faith he adopted. Swedenborg's ideas determined, too, the almost mystical character of Inness's later art.
Collection National Gallery of Art Collection
Image ID 1945.4.1
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