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Past and Present

May 04, 1986

We found ourselves before the paintings of George Innes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on one of those recent days when the dreadful effects of the melt down at Chernobyl were becoming known. The consequences of technology were starkly felt in the counterpoint of the disaster with the pastoral tranquility that Innes sublimely communicates.

The most advanced human invention visible in those 19th century landscapes is the old locomotive pulling a primitive train. The people were painted, almost without exception, as part of the land, tilling the soil, shepherding livestock.

The only visible pollution is plumes of chimney smoke rising from the hearths of quaint cottages scattered across the countryside.

What the artist could not communicate in his portrait of that era a century ago were the frustration of the people indentured to mindless tasks, the diseases that made childhood perilous and old age a rarity. Few would exchange the perils of contemporary life for the penalties of that rural life.

But we left the galleries, and the splendor of those masterpieces, speculating about the limits of technology, and whether we will ever know when enough is enough.

We could not forget that some of Innes' most compelling canvases depict the moment of tranquility, the last glimmer of sunlight, the contrast of light and dark, that haunt the earth when a storm is gathering.

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