Study from Nature: Rocks and Trees

Object Number: 
ca. 1856
Oil on canvas
Frame: 26 1/4 x 30 3/4 x 4 in. (66.7 x 78.1 x 10.2 cm) Overall: 21 x 16 1/2 in. ( 53.3 x 41.9 cm )
Gallery Label: 
With Cole's untimely death in 1848, Hudson River School artists rising to prominence at mid century found a new leader in Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886). Forsaking a successful career as a steel engraver, Durand had turned his attention to landscape painting in 1837, compelled by the first of many summer sketching expeditions he took with Cole to the Adirondack, Catskill, and White mountains. Durand shared with his friend and mentor a belief in the nobility of the virgin American landscape, redolent of divine promise, and set out to capture its essence in minute detail. His aesthetic vision, while beholden to Cole's, was decidedly less historic and allegorical and far more sensory and immediate. For Durand, it was the "common details" of nature, spotted in situ in the wilderness, that inspired him most. He experienced his communion with nature as a spiritual journey; making the sketches and paintings he produced acts of personal devotion. We see in his nature studies, both in graphite and in oil, a clear, reverent eye intent on recording nature's particulars so as to convey both the look and feel of direct experience. The geological and botanical fidelity exhibited in Rocks and Trees corresponds with a fundamental tenet of Durand's landscape philosophy - truth to Nature - outlined in his 1855 "Letters on Landscape Painting." He wrote, "I have already advised you to aim at direct imitation as far as possible, in your studies of foreground objects. You will be most successful in the more simple and solid materials, such as rocks and tree trunks, and after these, earth banks and the coarser kinds of grass, with mingling roots and plants, the larger leaves of which can be expressed with even botanical truthfulness; and they should be so rendered, but when you attempt masses of foliage or running water, anything like an equal degree of imitation becomes impracticible."
Executor's Sale, Studies in Oil by Asher B. Durand, N.A., Deceased, Ortgies' Art Gallery, New York, April 13 and 14, 1887, p. 20, no. 300. Catalogue of the Gallery of Art of The New York Historical Society, New York: Printed for the Society, 1915, p. 42. Lawall, David B., Asher Brown Durand: His Art and Art Theory in Relation to his Times, Submitted to Princeton University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, March 1966, pp. 254, 364. Lawall, David B., Asher B. Durand: A Documentary Catalogue of the Narrative and Landscape Paintings, New York & London, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1978, p. 177. A Mirror of Creation: 150 Years of American Nature Painting, New York Friends of American Art in Religion, Inc., 1980, unpaginated. Deak, Gloria-Gilda, Kennedy Galleries' Profiles of American Artists, New York: Kennedy Galleries, 1984, pp. 80-1. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, p. 342. Novak, Barbara, Nineteenth-Century American Painting, The Vendome Press, 1986, pp. 24-5. Goddard, Donald, American Painting, New York: Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc., 1990, pp. 49, 53. Harvey, Eleanor Jones, The Painted Sketch: American Impressions from Nature 1830-1880, Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1998, 140-1. Foshay, Ella M., and Novak, Barbara, Intimate Friends: Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, William Cullen Bryant, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 2000, pp. 37-43, 55. Bedell, Rebecca, The Anatomy of Nature: Geology & American Landscape Painting, 1835-1875, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 60-4, 159, 161. Leggio, Gail, "Nature's Presence: Asher B. Durand and American Landscape," American Arts Quarterly, Spring 2007, pp. 10-8. Peck, H. Daniel, "Unlikely Kindred Spirits: A New Vision of Landscape in the Works of Henry David Thoreau and Asher B. Durand," American Literary History, Vol. 17, No. 4, November 30, 2005, pp. 699-700. Vedder, Lee A. "Nineteenth-century American paintings." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 146-155.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mrs. Lucy Maria Durand Woodman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group