Cultured Wednesday: Asher Durand

“The true province of Landscape Art is the representation of the work of God in the visible creation.”


Here we have another painter that belonged to the Hudson River SchoolAsher Brown Durand.  He was born on August 21st, 1796 in Maplewood, New Jersey, which was then called Jefferson Village, where he died as well on September 17th, 1886, having turned 90 just a month before.  His father was a watchmaker and a silversmith, obviously using his dexterity to make a living for his family of 13.  So did his 8th child Asher, who learned engraving first, and then turned to painting in 1830.  Here is one of his amazing engravings:

Declaration engraving
Declaration of Independence, 1823

But for us, as incredible as the engravings are, the paintings really caught our attention.  We have already portrayed the founder of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole, and so it doesn’t come as a surprise that we also like Durand’s style and choice of motif.  What strikes one is that Durand seems to have loved trees in particular.  Just look how much attention he has paid to the foliage in this painting:

1847 The Indians Vespers Durand
The Indians Vespers, 1847

It appears as though Durand learned his love for landscape paintings from his friend Thomas Cole on a trip they took to the Adirondacks Mountains, soon after which he spent summers sketching in the Catskills, Adirondacks, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which are actually part of the northern Appalachian Mountains and the most rugged mountains in New England.  The paintings that evolved from these sketches helped to define the Hudson River School style.

Asher Durand also painted rocks, aiming at a realistic representation in the sense that he, like Cole, saw Nature as an ineffable manifestation of God, and hence he held that “the true province of Landscape Art is the representation of the work of God in the visible creation…”.  Durand was very adamant about not profaning the sacredness of Nature by “willful departure from the truth”, that is, by not portraying it in the way it presents itself, to the best of one’s ability.

1860 Rocky Cliff Durand
Rocky Cliff, 1860

Another one of his paintings that we like a lot is his depiction of what led to the first Thanksgiving.  Note how majestically the mountains loom over the scene, and how the sun seems to spotlight the humble activities of man below, reaping what he sowed:

1855 The First Harvest in the Wilderness Durand
The First Harvest in the Wilderness, 1855

Not surprisingly, the paintings of the Hudson River School are said to reflect the Transcendental philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), who believed that all of nature bore testimony to a spiritual truth that could be understood through personal intuition.  The paintings all illustrate this rather well, I dare say, and especially this one:

Durand 1859 The Catskills
The Catskills, 1859

Lastly, as a featured image you see Asher Durand’s painting Kindred Spirits, painted in December 1848 It was commissioned by the merchant-collector Jonathan Sturges as a gift for William Cullen Bryant in gratitude for the nature poet’s eulogy to Thomas Cole, who had died suddenly during early 1848.  It shows Cole, who had been Jonathan Sturges’ mentor, standing in a gorge in Catskills in the company of mutual friend William Cullen Bryant.  Here the uncropped painting in all its beauty:

Kindred Spirits, 1848



13 comments on “Cultured Wednesday: Asher Durand”

  1. Beautiful art such as this helps me better appreciate the depth of those who were here, established this country with intelligence, hard work and strong faith. Grateful he and others did leave recordings of who we came from. Thank you for this wonderful post.

    Liked by 2 people

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