Inness was the 5th of 13 children of a grocer. His family moved to Newark, New Jersey when he was about 4 years of age. In his teens Inness worked as a map engraver, and sketched scenes from nature on the side. He attracted attention and studied with Regis Gignoux in New York City. In his early 20s a patron Ogden Haggerty sponsored him to spend over a year in Italy and a year in France before returning to the States. He was regarded as the finest American landscape artist of his time.