Published: April 10, 2007
Home to the single largest collection of Asher B. Durand works, the New-York Historical Society will present more than 70 paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures, daguerreotypes, historical artifacts and documents as part of its exhibition, “The World of Asher B. Durand: The Artist in the Antebellum New York” opening April 13 and running through September 30.
“The World of Asher B. Durand” is drawn from the society’s American art collection. Along with historical documents that portray Durand in the context of the rich and lively cultural life of New York City in the decades before the Civil War, the exhibition features a liberal display of the landscape paintings and drawings for which he is most famous, including his “Hudson River, View of Fishkill Mountains.”
“Asher B. Durand was one of the most important American artists of the Nineteenth Century, ” said Dr Linda S. Ferber, vice president and museum director and curator of the exhibition. “He was a central figure as an artist, as a founder of art institutions and as the dean of the American landscape school. His long career began with the earliest efforts of the American artists, writers and patrons also included here to construct a national cultural identity during the decades before the Civil War.”
Durand participated in this collective enterprise from the very beginning; first as a master banknote and reproductive engraver; then as a portrait painter recording the features of the Founding Fathers as well as the mercantile and cultural elite of New York City before turning to landscape painting in the mid-1830s. “The World of Asher B. Durand” recreates Durand’s milieu by displaying his own works in juxtaposition with those by, or portraying, his circle of fellow artists, writers, critics, publishers and patrons. The installation in the Luman Reed Galleries is further enriched by a selection of historical artifacts, artist memorabilia and documents.
Durand’s own work is featured with a liberal display of the landscape paintings and drawings for which he is most famous, in addition to his early portraits (many of family members as well as of himself), genre subjects and engravings. The latter will include examples of the elaborate engraved banknotes on which he collaborated during the 1820s with his brother, Cyrus Durand. The intricate brass lathe developed by Cyrus for the purpose (a gift to the society in 1863) is also included. Durand’s striking “Self Portrait” of 1835 joins his powerful portrayal of octogenarian James Madison, painted from life in 1833.
His fellow artists in the exhibition include John Trumbull, William Dunlap, Thomas Cole, who presented his own “Study for Dream of Arcadia” to Durand in 1838, William Sidney Mount, Daniel Huntington, Francis W. Edmonds, John F. Kensett, Christopher Cranch and John W. Casilear, whose “Landscape” of 1852 also belonged to Durand, as did Thomas H. Hotchkiss’s “Catskill Mountains, Shandaken,” 1856. Portrait busts of Durand’s literary colleagues and collaborators, Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant are also included, as well as one of distinguished critic, George William Curtis.
Durand’s own association with the N-YHS was a long-term affair. He became an honorary member in 1821 after engraving the society’s membership diploma. William T. Sherman’s membership diploma will be displayed. Durand’s paintings entered the collection in 1858 with the acquisition of Luman Reed’s holdings in the form of the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts. Durand served on the society’s art committee from 1872 until his death in 1886.
The society purchased four “Studies from Nature” at the sale of Durand’s estate in 1887. The artist’s descendants honored this long affiliation by depositing the family’s collection of more than 400 works in a series of gifts that today form the largest Durand collection in the world.
The New-York Historical Society will offer corresponding public programs, including a one-day symposium of Asher B. Durand and a guided tour of the exhibition with Dr Ferber
The exhibition is presented in conjunction with “Kindred Spirits: Asher B. Durand and the American Landscape,” a retrospective of Durand’s works organized by Dr Ferber currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum through July 29.
The New-York Historical Society is at 170 Central Park West, between 76 and 77 Streets. For information, www.nyhistory.org or 212-873-3400.
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