Asher Brown Durand was born August 21, 1796, in Jefferson Village, New Jersey (now called Maplewood). Durand was one of eleven children. When Durand was 16 years old, he apprenticed as an engraver to Peter Maverick, studying for five years. He then became a partner in the firm, running the New York branch. After he contracted to make an engraving of the painting of the Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull, Durand secured his reputation as one of the finest engravers in the country.
Durand helped found the New York Drawing Association in 1825. The next year, the Association was renamed the National Academy of Design.
In 1835, Durand was commissioned by art patron, Luman Reed, to paint portraits of the first seven Presidents of the United States. The commission was instrumental in establishing Durand’s reputation as a painter. After Reed’s death, Durand began corresponding and painting with landscape painter, Thomas Cole. Durand’s interest in landscape painting grew with Cole as both his friend and mentor. Thomas Cole was the finest landscape painter in America at that time. Durand and Cole often traveled together to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to paint outdoors.
Durand exhibited his studies from nature in the annual National Academy of Design (NAD) shows. Critics responded favorably to the fresher, naturalistic views. This break from tradition established him as a modern painter. Durand became President of the National Academy of Design and held the post from 1845 until 1861.
In 1848, Thomas Cole died unexpectedly. Durand was crowned his successor in the national press.
Durand authored ‘Letters on Landscape Painting’ — a series of nine articles for the magazine, The Crayon. Durand’s philosophy about landscape painting resonated with the press. For years, there had been a cry for American art, separate from European ideology. Durand’s insistence on the study of nature as the source of truth in landscape painting gained a following among younger artists. He continued Cole’s legacy, promoting an American school of art with landscape painting at its forefront. Where Cole’s landscapes were still painted in the European tradition of allegorical reference, Durand’s ideal embraced a more naturalistic approach. He set the stage for the Barbizon and Impressionist aesthetics that would overtake the Hudson River School romanticism.
Durand continued to paint outdoors into his eighties. He died at the old age of ninety. He attributes his long, healthy life to embracing Sylvester Graham’s system of vegetarianism and clean living.
The Life and Times of Asher B. Durand
Kindred Spirits: Asher B. Durand and the American LandscapeLinda S. Ferber Editor
Giles Limited Publishing
QuoteI would urge any young student in landscape painting, the importance of painting direct from nature as soon as they have acquired the first rudiments of art.
~Asher B Durand