When it first entered the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection in 1931, this painting was believed to be a work by the hand of Asher B. Durand, a leading figure of the first generation of Hudson River school painters. Given Durand’s reverential and naturalistic portrayal of landscapes over his entire career, and the acknowledged impact he had on the early works of the young painter George Inness, it is possible to understand how this unsigned work was mistaken as a creation by the older artist. Yet, at some unrecorded point prior to 1974, the authorship was questioned and the painting’s status was downgraded to possibly being by Durand—a classification that held fast until August of 2012.
Because of the questionable authorship, the painting was relegated to storage for many years. Recently, the strength of the composition and its competent execution compelled a curator to embark on a concerted exploration of the work. Through a close comparison of salient factors, including paint application and the execution of details such as foliage and rocks, she eliminated various artists as the potential creator; however, close scrutiny of early works by George Inness yielded the greatest degree of parity in matters of execution. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, she spied a delicate and unassuming pen-and-ink drawing with touches of gouache (illustrated below) that contained the key compositional elements of the Dallas work—the most eye-catching being the pointing trapezoidal rock that appears in the center of both drawing and painting.
The discovery of the relationship between the compositional study and the painting allows us a rare opportunity to observe Inness’s artistic process at a period (c. 1850) for which few such pairings exist. Particularly fascinating to observe is the artist’s translation of a vertical compositional study into an expansive horizontal format wherein the key features are fully maintained. Historically, the painting also falls into a period (1848– 51) when the artist combined the vestiges of Durand’s naturalism with the sculptural aspects of Dutch landscape painting. Inness’s painting style changed radically again with his first trip to Europe in 1851.
Since the title for the painting prior to this discovery ( "In the Woods") most likely was not Inness’s, a new title that reflects stylistically those used by him at that period has been assigned— "Stream in the Mountains".