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The Hudson River School: Asher Brown Durand

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Asher B. Durand was born in Maplewood, New Jersey. He was the eighth of eleven children.

His father was a watchmaker and a silversmith.

Durand was apprenticed to an engraver from 1812 to 1817 and later became a partner within the company. In the 1820s and 1830s Durand continued printmaking and was active in New York cultural circles. In 1825 Durand was one of the fifteen founding members of the New York Drawing Association which in 1826 became the National Academy of Design. He served as president of the organization from 1845 to 1861. He was also involved with several other arts groups, including James Fenimore Cooper's Bread and Cheese Club and the Sketch Club.

Woodland Glen

In the early 1830s Durand began painting portraits. Around 1835, inspired by Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Durand ended his career as an engraver in favor of painting. In 1837, he accompanied his friend Cole on a sketching expedition to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks Mountains, and soon after began to concentrate on landscape painting. He spent summers sketching in the Catskills, Adirondacks, and the White Mountains, making drawings and oil sketches that were later incorporated into finished academy pieces. These works, along with Cole’s, helped to define the Hudson River School.

Durand is remembered particularly for his detailed portrayals of trees, rocks, and foliage. He increasingly believed that direct study of nature should be the primary inspiration for American artists. He began producing paintings that were admired for their faithfulness to form, light and atmosphere. He was an advocate for drawing directly from nature with as much realism as possible. Durand wrote, "Let the artist scrupulously accept whatever nature presents him until he shall, in a degree, have become intimate with her infinity...never let him profane her sacredness by a willful departure from truth."

Forest Stream with Vista

With the publication of nine "Letters on Landscape Painting", Durand codified the practices of landscape painting as instructions addressed to an imaginary student. The letterers were published in The Crayon, a New York art periodical. In them he advised American painters to work directly from nature and to give precedence to New World subjects over European ones.

There are so many Hudson River School painters to admire and from whom to draw inspiration. Reviewing the works of F.E. Church, M.J. Heade and S.R. Gifford promotes the urge to grab a camera, head outside and attempt to produce something amazing. A.B. Durand’s work has a different impact. There are no volcanoes in his landscapes, no hummingbirds, no softly luminous sunsets. His paintings are (primarily) woodland scenes, realistic in composition and true in detail. Most importantly for me, the scenes are from the Catskills, the Adirondacks and the Whites … home. A.B. Durand’s paintings remind me why I shoulder my day pack and head out at sunrise … the beauty of Nature provides peace for the soul. I’ve included here several favorites from Durand; paintings worth study and appreciation. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Be well and stay safe. Gordon.

A Creek in the Woods


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