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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Hudson River School in Nineteenth–Century American Art: Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886)

Asher Brown Durand was a man who practices what he preached - "Go first to nature to learn to paint landscapes." The revolutionary aspect of that statement can only be understood in historical context. Coming at a time when American nature painting was dominated by European esthetics, he may well have been the first to advocate a direct response to nature, placing highest value on seeing and feeling for oneself. he urged painters to be influenced by weather, by atmosphere and light. And he took to the hills  and return with fresh, moisture-filled pictures. In 1855 he painted In the Woods, large and refined, and no doubt based on sketches completed in the field. From North Conway, New Hampshire, that year he wrote a letter describing in great detail the scene he found.

In the Woods, 1855
Asher B. Durand (American, 1796–1886)
The region of the White Mountains is justly famed for its impressive scenery: passages of the sublime and beautiful are not infrequent, and for those who have the physical strength and mental energy to confront the former among the deep chasms and frowning precipices, I doubt not it would be difficult to exaggerate, and the simple truth would be sufficient to convey the full idea of "boundless power and inaccessible majesty", represented by such scenes. But to one like myself, unqualified to penetrate the "untrodden ways" of the latter, the beautiful aspect of the White Mountain scenery is by far the predominant feature. In this respect, this locality (North Conway) possesses advantages probably unequalled  by any other, both for its  immediate prospects and for the convenience of excursions in the vicinity, introducing new and still new beauties for many miles around. It has not been, as yet, my privilege to enjoy many such excursions, nor have I sought it; there is enough immediately before me for present attention. Mount Washington, the leading feature of the scene when the weather is fine, a circumstance is too rare, rises in all his majesty, and with his contemporary patriots, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, bounds the view at the North. On either hand, subordinate mountains and ledges slope, or abruptly descend to the fertile plain that borders the Saco, stretching many miles southward, rich in varying tints of green fields and meadows, and beautifully interspersed with groves and scattered trees of graceful form and deepest verdure: rocks glitter in the sunshine among the dark forests that clothe the greater portion of the surrounding elevations; farmhouses peep out amidst the rich foliage below, and winding roads, with their warm-colored lines, aided by patches of richly tinted earth break up the monotony, if monotony it can be called, where every possible shade of green is harmoniously mingled. I have seen no scenery in this country presenting so great a variety in color. The bare summits of the higher mountains in sunny warmth, contrast beautifully with the purplish blue and russet hues that graduate from midway down their vast slopes to their forest bases, and the patches of cultivation which seldom venture but a short way up their sides, are rarely offensive through formality of outline, being always agreeably tinted with various colors. 
Such are the more obvious features of this locality, but these are not all. An irregular ship strip of table-land, skirting the bases of the eastern hills, including Mt. Kearsarge, lifts you from fifty to a hundred feet above the bed of the Saco. On this table land the village of North Conway is situated, and there the public road passes. In approaching the rich meadows which border the river, you descend a steep bank mostly studded with trees, but occasionally presenting a declivity of loose sand not unlike the ashy slope of Vesuvius, out of which often shoot up the shining stems of the white birch mingled with the drooping elm, and suddenly at the base you are surprised with the of a crystal streamlet winding its way among alders and overhanging trees of various kinds, birch, elm, and maple, to mingle with the Saco. 

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