ASHER B. DURAND: AN ENGRAVER'S AND A FARMER'S ART

Asher B. Durand was the founder and, for a generation, the leading figure in the Hudson River School. The first half of this statement will appear to many readers as obviously false. Did not Thomas Cole create a sensation with views of the Hudson River in 1825, while Durand did not specialize in landscape for at least another ten years? Did not Cole's example, by breaking down imported esthetic canons, open American scenery to enthusiastic acceptance as preferred subject matter for Amencan painters? And, although Durand was an accomplished creator of many landscapes worthy of admiration and even love, was not Cole a greater painter? The answer to all these three queries is "of course," yet Cole was a precursor, not a true member of the Hudson River School.

Every important Hudson River School painter was American-born,1 while Cole's family had fled to the United States, as refugees from the English industrial midlands, when he was seventeen. He was never fully to accept the optimism, based on American experience, of the Hudson River School artists whose basic tenet was that Nature was good. Seeing much evil in man and his world, Cole painted menacing and violent landscapes, in addition to quiet and sunny scenes, and created moralistic multi-canvas epics like The Voyage of Life. His painting technique was very different from Hudson River practice. One of the most tactile of landscape painters--which is a secret of his greatness--he rendered with

____________________
1
This statement relies on the distinction between the Hudson River School and what I have called the Rocky Mountain School which painted tremendous canvases related to the sensational scenery of the Far West. The leader of that school, Albert Bierstadt, was born and trained in Dusseldorf. The perspicacious critic James Jackson Jarves considered Bierstadt a "Dusseldorf artist," and the contemporary chronicler of mid-nineteenth-century century art, Henry T. Tuckerman, added "to this fact may be ascribed both his merits and [his] defects." Significantly, all Bierstadt's most important followers were, in sharp contradiction to the Hudson River School, foreign-born. They heightened their observations of Nature into studio-stunners.
An earlier version of this essay appeared in Asher B. Durand ( Yonkers, N.Y.: Hudson River Museum, 1983).

-134-

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