Rather than celebrating nature in the tradition of the Hudson River School, George Inness' Lackawanna Valley seems to commemorate the onset of America's industrial age. While documenting the achievements of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad, Inness has also created a topographically convincing view of Scranton, Pennsylvania. The artist took relatively few liberties with his composition, but in compliance with the wishes of his corporate patron, he intentionally exaggerated the prominence of the railroad's yet-to-be-completed roundhouse. His inclusion of numerous tree stumps in the picture's foreground, although accurate, lends an important note of ambiguity to the work.

Whether it is read as an enthusiastic affirmation of technology or as a belated lament for a rapidly vanishing wilderness, this painting exemplifies a crucial philosophical dilemma that confronted many Americans in the 1850s; expansion inevitably necessitated the widespread destruction of unspoiled nature, itself a still-powerful symbol of the nation's greatness. Although it was initially commissioned as an homage to the machine, Inness' Lackawanna Valley nevertheless serves as a poignant pictorial reminder of the ephemeral nature of the American Dream.


  • Title: The Lackawanna Valley
  • Date Created: c. 1856
  • Physical Dimensions: w1275 x h860 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Mrs. Huttleston Rogers
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Theme: topographical, United States
  • School: American
  • Provenance: Commissioned c. 1856 by the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad, Scranton, Pennsylvania.[1] The artist, from 1891; by inheritance 1894 to his daughter, Mrs. Jonathan Scott Hartley, New York; (her sale, American Art Association, New York, 24 March 1927, no. 76, as The First Roundhouse of the D. L. and W. R. R. at Scranton); (Henry Schulteis Gallery, New York); (sale, Parke Bernet Galleries, New York, 24 February 1938, no. 54, as The First Roundhouse of the D.L. & W. Railroad, Scranton, Pennsylvania); (Henry Schulteis Gallery, New York); sold 14 May 1944 to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); purchased February 1945 by Millicent Rogers [Mrs. Huttleson Rogers, 1900 1953], Washington, D.C.; gift 1945 to NGA.[2] [1] Commissioned of Inness at about this time and later sold by the railroad at an unknown date. [2] According to the 21 May 1945 minutes of the NGA Board of Trustees, Millicent Rogers, living in Washington at the time, offered to purchase the painting for the NGA. It was then owned by M. Knoedler & Co., New York.
  • Artist: George Inness

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