George Inness and the Science of Landscape

Book Cover

Cover of 'George Inness and the Science of Landscape' by Rachael Z. DeLue

University of Chicago Press
March 25, 2005


George Inness (1825-94), long considered one of America’s greatest landscape painters, has yet to receive his full due from scholars and critics. A complicated artist and thinker, Inness painted stunningly beautiful, evocative views of the American countryside. Less interested in representing the details of a particular place than in rendering the "subjective mystery of nature," Inness believed that capturing the spirit or essence of a natural scene could point to a reality beyond the physical or, as Inness put it, "the reality of the unseen."

Throughout his career, Inness struggled to make visible what was invisible to the human eye by combining a deep interest in 19th-century scientific inquiry — including optics, psychology, physiology, and mathematics — with an idiosyncratic brand of mysticism. Rachael Ziady DeLue’s George Inness and the Science of Landscape — the first in-depth examination of Inness’s career to appear in several decades — demonstrates how the artistic, spiritual, and scientific aspects of Inness’s art found expression in his masterful landscapes. In fact, Inness’s practice was not merely shaped by his preoccupation with the nature and limits of human perception; he conceived of his labor as a science in its own right.

This lavishly illustrated work reveals Inness as profoundly invested in the science and philosophy of his time and illuminates the complex manner in which the fields of art and science intersected in 19th-century America. Long-awaited, this reevaluation of one of the major figures of 19th-century American art will prove to be a seminal text in the fields of art history and American studies.


George Inness and the Science of Landscape fills a considerable gap. It provides the first serious intellectual analysis of Inness’s thought and goes far in helping us to understand why he was such an important artist in his day. There is a great need for a book like DeLue’s.”

— John Davis

“This is a brilliant, complex, and splendidly written book. DeLue brings an educated eye and a clarity of voice and style that make it a pleasure to read. George Inness and the Science of Landscape will immediately assume a significant place among the new studies of American art.”

— Sally M. Promey

“DeLue makes a strong case that Inness was a metaphysician, that he aimed to produce a science of the soul in his paintings: that he scumbled, fogged, and scribbled his images into something approximating ’spiritual sight.’ Her forceful argument will renew interest in this painter and add to debates about methodology within American Art.”

— Alexander Nemerov, author of The Body of Raphaelle Peale

“DeLue undertakes the Herculean task of plumbing the depths of a highly complex and multifaceted mind to uncover many of the whys surrounding this often misunderstood artist. . . . Chapter by chapter, DeLue peels back the layers of a very complex man, revealing Inness’s tireless pursuit of the perfect landscape model through which God could be revealed. . . . DeLue’s writing style and voice help to make complex ideas comprehensible.”

— Kraig Binkowski, Art Documentation