Authentically Human! Not Written by AI!
All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Sunday, October 31, 2021

My Art History: Asher Durand

Field Sketch by Asher Durand, 1855
Pencil, 13 13/16 x 9 7/8 in
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Engraver Asher Durand (1796-1886) made the leap to painting in 1837 after accompanying Thomas Cole on a expedition to Schroon Lake in New York's Adirondack Mountains.  We are fortunate that he did so; although he initially gained fame as an engraver with John Trumbull's landmark painting, “The Declaration of Independence,” today we remember him as one of the more prominent Hudson River School artists.

Durand spent a great deal of time tramping through the woods, drawing in pencil and sketching in oil.  The Catskills, the Adirondacks and the White Mountains of New Hampshire provided plenty of material for his studio paintings.  In 1855, he published his “Letters on Landscape Painting” in which he advised painters to work from life, touting it as a better way to learn to paint than by studying the work of other artists—a practice common in the academies then.

John Constable, about whom I wrote earlier, became an inspiration for Durand after viewing his work on a trip to Europe: “[Constable's paintings show] more of simple truth and naturalness than any English landscape I have ever before met with.”  I think he must have sensed his kinship with Constable as a fellow plein air sketcher.  For both of them, the key lay in representing the landscape as a place filled with trees that are real individuals rather than generic representations.  In their paintings, a beech tree looks like a beech tree; a fir, like a fir.

Here are some more of his field studies, plus a studio painting--and one of my own tree studies.

Landscape (from McGuire Scrapbook), Durand, ND
Pencil, 7 7/16" x 5 13/16"
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Nature Study, Trees, Newburgh, New York, Durand, 1849
Oil, 22.13" x 18"
NY Historical Society

The Beeches, Durand, 1845 / Studio Painting
Oil on Canvas, 60 3/8" x 48 1/8"
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Juniper Study, Johnson
Gouache, 6"x8"