Although born to a humble, middle class family, Asher B. Durand ultimately became one of the most important American painters of the 19th century. Durand began his life and artistic career in Newark, New Jersey where he was an apprentice and partner to the engraver Peter Maverick. Although Durand found great success in the medium of engraving (he created a famous reproduction of John Trumbull’s “Declaration of Independence”) he eventually put down the burin for the paintbrush in 1835. Like most American painters, Durand produced a number of portraits until turning to the American landscape for inspiration. During the latter years of his life, Durand focused his artistic eye on the beautiful views enclosed within the forests and banks of the Hudson River Valley and expressed that which he saw in what David B. Lawall terms a “conceptual realism.” Durand’s unique style and use of realism eventually earned him the title of both father and leader of the Hudson River School.
In addition to his artistic production, Durand also headed and joined a number of art organizations during his lifetime. For instance, Durand was a founding member of the National Academy of Design, of which he was president from 1845-1861, as well as co-founder of two associations devoted to the art of drawing: the New York Drawing Association and the New York Sketch Club. In these positions, Durand found himself a friend, mentor and teacher of many artists, such as Thomas Cole, John Frederick Kensett and John William Casilear. Durand also related his artistic theories and visions to the general public through his famous publication, “Letters on Landscape Painting” in the periodical “The Crayon” (co-edited by his son, John Durand). Today, Durand’s works can be viewed in such esteemed collections as the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.