John O'Brien INMAN
(New York 1828 - Fordham 1896)
The artist's studio in Paris
Oil on panel
H. 38 cm; W. 55 cm
Signed, located and dated lower left 1872
John O'Brien Inman is one of those American artists who, in the last third of the 19th century, spent a good part of their career in Europe.
He was the son of Henry Inman (1801-1846), one of the most famous New York portraitists in the 1820s and 1840s. Trained by his father, who seems to have been his only master, John added his mother's name, Jane Riker O'Brien (1796-1876), to his father's surname (probably to distinguish himself from it). His status as a "son of" will not prevent him from having a successful career, however.
Identified as early as 1848 in New York as a painter of portraits and miniatures, the strong local competition forced him to seek clients further west and in the south of the United States: we find his trace in Athens, Georgia, or in Savannah, where he did not hesitate to advertise to make himself known. This itinerant career also led him to the Adirondacks, northeast of New York, where he painted a few landscapes. After a first exhibition in 1853 at the National Academy of Design, he settled in New York in 1861: he exhibited at the Brooklyn Artists Association, and seemed to specialize in still lifes, with some success it seems, since a newspaper reported in November 1862 that "his paintings of fruits and flowers are sold before leaving the easel. Nevertheless, he still produced a few portraits or genre scenes, almost exclusively in small formats, and eventually became a member of the National Academy of Design in 1865. His studio was then located at 650 Broadway.
In 1866, Inman left for Europe, where he stayed for 12 years and achieved notable success. There he divided his time between London, and especially Rome and Paris where he had two studios.
Our painting represents this Parisian workshop in 1872, just like a gouache (26x21 cm) kept in the Brooklyn Museum, dated the same year: in both works we find several accessories, in particular the double-bellied porcelain vase, an identical easel (the one on the left on the gouache), the Roman helmet and the skirt, the small Syrian piece of furniture, the piece of blue cloth braided with white; on the other hand the paintings hung there are different. The degree of finishing and precision of our painting, much higher than in New York gouache, its bright and vivid colors, its respectable dimensions, as well as its very personal side, make it one of the major and most desirable works within the artist's known corpus. It also informs us about the very varied nature of the subjects treated by Inman: genre scenes à la Camille Roqueplan, landscape studies, urban views, historical genre paintings. It is also a precious iconographic testimony of these artists' studios in Paris in the early years of the Third Republic, resembling real cabinets of curiosity, before photography gives us many examples of them some fifteen years later. The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists tells us that the artist made very detailed "historical costumes" at that time.
From this European episode, Inman also leaves us some landscapes, for example a view of Perugia in 1869, the interiors of the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, a view of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.
Upon his return to the United States in 1878, Inman produced his most famous painting, a large format painting (0.75 x 1.25 m) quite exceptional for him, a moonlight ice skating scene in Central Park, New York.
He then returned to England for a while, before settling back on the banks of the Hudson River and dying in great poverty in a kind of hospice.
Museums: National Gallery of Art of Washington, Smithsonian Museum of Washington, Metropolitan Museum, Museum of the city of New-York, Princeton University Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum, University of Indiana (Eskenazi Museum of Art)