WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute has received its largest gift to date of American art: 11 paintings and five drawings from New York-based collectors Frank and Katherine Martucci.
The collection includes eight works by major American landscape painter George Inness (1825-1894).
"George Inness has no greater contemporary advocate than Frank Martucci, who has studied Inness's aesthetic philosophy, assembled a wonderful collection of his work, and supported the publication of the complete catalogue of Inness's work in 2007," said Clark Director Michael Conforti.
A Wall Street financier, Martucci and his wife built their collection at their home in Irvington, N.Y., over the past 20 years, and offered the works to the Clark after retiring recently to Ancramdale, N.Y.
The Martuccis "wanted to share the collection with the public and put it in a place where it would be appreciated," said Richard Rand, the Clark's senior curator.
As is its policy, the Clark would not divulge a dollar-value estimate assigned to the works of art.
The Clark will present the eight Inness landscapes in "George Inness: Gifts from Frank and Katherine Martucci," an exhibition that runs from June 9 to Sept. 8.
The couple's gift also includes oil paintings by American Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) and French Gaston Latouche (1854-1913), an early watercolor landscape by the Dutch Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), and five works by 19th-century Italian genre painter Mosè Bianchi (1840-1904).
The Clark already owns two other Inness works, "Wood Gatherers: An Autumn Afternoon" and "Home at Montclair."
Those were purchased by Sterling Clark and have been a part of the museum's collection since 1955.
Together, the 10 paintings, all done in the 1880s and ‘90s, "create a beautiful survey of his late work," Rand said.
"Now we have 10 terrific paintings by Inness at his most ethereal, spiritual, mystical," he said.
Two other major American painters are represented in the Clark's
collection: Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.
Inness did not paint landscapes simply as forms in nature. Rather, he was influenced by the writings of Swedish philosopher Emmauel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and believed that nature reflected the spiritual world. He experimented with color, composition, and painterly technique in order to present a vision of the natural world beyond its physical forms.
"Inness takes us beyond in the canvas in a unique way," Martucci said in a statement. "He was an absolute idealist and shared Ralph Waldo Emerson's belief that there are intuitive ways in which to perceive the world which transcend the experience of our five senses. His landscapes are intended to capture that world beyond, and to become missionaries for this spiritual expression."
Martucci loaned Inness's "New Jersey Landscape" to the Clark's 2008 exhibition "Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly," and credits the experience of working with the Clark's curatorial team for deepening his connection to the art institute.
"The sensitivity of that show and the way in which the Clark handled the exhibition impressed me, and our friendship has continued to grow over time," Martucci said.
Martucci serves as a member of the Clark's directors council, an advisory panel of noted arts leaders.
Rand said Inness, who was born in Newburgh, N.Y., and lived and painted around New York City and Newark, N.J., went to study and work in France in the 1850s and both Italy and France in the 1870s.
His mid-career was influenced by the French Barbizon painters, whom he admired.
But as Inness matured, Rand said, his work became "more ethereal."
He was very popular in his day, the curator said, but fell out of favor in the early 20th century only to be rediscovered in the 1980s and recognized as the important American artist he was.