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14 Lines



“I cannot imagine how we forgive ourselves for all the things we didn’t say until it was too late… how do we forgive ourselves for all the things we did not become?” —Doc Luben, from “14 Lines from Love Letters or Suicide Notes.”

“You must suggest to me reality — you can never show me reality.” —George Inness

“Moonrise–1887” by George Inness is one of my favorites. Inness was a standout member of the 19th century Hudson River School of painters, who drew their subject matter from Nature for its own sake. For Inness, perhaps to a larger degree than his Hudson River fellows, nature was a “manifestation of the divine,”not as the backdrop for heroic human effort, like Benjamin West’s “The Death of General Wolfe” for example.

As a friend of Rev Henry Ward Beecher and economist Henry George, Inness’s late works were also influenced by a close study of pantheistic philosophy of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Those three associations alone rank him very high in my regard, though, frankly, intellectualizing obstructs an appreciation for his considerable volume of work. I would have thought there were well more than a thousand examples, but the website devoted to him lists just 237. His style was widely copied, however, and paintings attributed to him appear often on auction sites—innocent copies by students of art or outright forgeries for the feckless art investor.

I cannot look at “Moonrise–1887” without recalling Benjamin Franklin’s observation about the chair George Washington had occupied for several months in 1887 during the Continental Congress. On the cresting piece behind Washington’s head, there appears a gilded sun, half-hidden by the horizon: at the convention’s end James Madison recorded Franklin’s observation “I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I… know that it is a rising…sun.” Though Inness here records the moon and though he tells us it is, indeed, rising, my perspective at this phase of life is otherwise.

So, with ardent hope that it is not too late (in Doc Luben’s sense), I’ve resolved to say a few things to those who matter most. I hope they’ll be willing to listen.

george inness 2.jpg

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