U.S. painter, engraver, and illustrator Asher Durand was one of the first American artists to paint directly from nature, wanting to concentrate on its unspoiled beauty. One of the founders of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, he is remembered for his meticulously detailed trees, rocks and foliage.
Asher Brown Durand was born on August 21, 1796 in a farmhouse in Jefferson Village, which later became Maplewood, New Jersey. As a young boy, he learned several crafts including jewelry making and engraving in his father’s shop.
In 1812, Durand became a partner in Peter Maverick’s firm after serving as an apprentice for five years. When he accepted a sole commission to engrave John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence, Maverick dissolved the partnership. He was resentful that Durand had accepted the commission without his approval. Durand’s work on the Declaration of Independence was eventually featured on the two-dollar bill, and that established him as one of the country’s finest engravers. Before long, he and his brother started up a printmaking firm of their own.
During the 1820’s, Durand, now an established successful business man, began to socialize in New York's cultural circles. He took up painting during this time and soon realized his undeniable talent. In 1825, he created his first original composition - a female nude in a landscape setting. A passion to paint evolved into a need to express and create. With the encouragement of his friend and patron Luman Reed, Asher Durand ended his engraving career in 1835 and decided to turn his passion into a profession.
His association with the New York art community inspired the founding of the New York Drawing Association (1825), the National Academy of Design (1826) and the Sketch Club (1827). The Academy became a prominent place for young artists to gather and develop their skills. Durand acted as its president from 1845 to 1861. To this day, it continues to be one of the leading art institutes in the United States.
For the next decade, Durand continued to do engraved reproductions of paintings by American artists, one of which is: ‘Ariadne’ by John Vanderlyn. After 1835, he devoted himself chiefly to portraiture, painting several U.S. presidents including James Madison and John Quincy Adams.
In 1837, a sketching expedition with close friend Thomas Cole revealed Durand’s undeniable desire to paint landscapes exclusively. Cole, a renowned American artist of the day, became Durand's mentor whose influence would become evident throughout the rest of the artist’s career.
In 1840, Asher Durand began a two-year European Grand Tour, intent on using his time to study the work of the old masters. Upon his return, he opened his own studio in New York City. Romantic landscapes of the Hudson River area, the Adirondack Mountains, and New England were sites of inspiration to the artist. The term ‘Hudson River School artist’ came to reflect those artists who believed that “an artist could only portray nature if he became one with it.”
In 1848, Durand’s long time friend and travel companion Thomas Cole died. His death inspired ‘Kindred Spirits,’ his most popular work, which portrayed Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant in a minutely realistic Catskill forest setting. Cole’s death marked Asher Durand as the leader of American landscape painting and the leader of the Hudson River School.
One of the artist’s last major landscape paintings entitled ‘The Trysting Tree’ was commissioned by wealthy merchant, Benjamin Hazard Field. It was to be a gift for his wife, Catherine M. Van Cortlandt de Peyster to mark their 30th wedding anniversary. Asher Durand died in 1886 on the family property in Maplewood. He had been retired from his active professional life in New York City since 1869.