Asher Durand was born Aug. 21, 1796, in Maplewood (formerly Jefferson Village), N.J. From 1812 to 1820, he was an apprentice, then partner, to an engraver copying English book illustrations. His reputation as a printmaker was established in 1823, when he received wide acclaim for an engraving after John Trumbull’s famous painting The Declaration of Independence. This firmly established his reputation as the finest engraver in the United States. In the 1830s, Durand ended his engraving business and entered into a short, successful period as a portrait painter of U.S. presidents and other Americans of political and social prominence. In 1837, a sketching expedition to the Adirondacks with the artist Thomas Cole, a close friend and mentor, led to Durand’s decision to concentrate on landscape painting. Durand’s subsequent annual summer trips to the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountains yielded hundreds of drawings and oil sketches that he later incorporated into finished paintings. From 1840 to 1841, he traveled extensively in Europe, studying the old masters and sketching from nature. Durand, who was one of the founders of the National Academy of Design in New York City, served as its second president from 1845 until 1861. In 1855, his influential “Letters on Landscape Painting” were published in the Crayon, an important art periodical founded by the artist’s son, John. Durand, who retired in 1869, stopped painting in 1878 and died Sept. 17, 1886, in his home town of Maplewood, N.J.
Smithsonian American Art Museum “Smithsonian American Art Museum Hosts the First Major Retrospective in 35 Years Devoted to Celebrated American Landscape Painter Asher B. Durand” (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian American Art Museum, press release, August 14, 2007)
Born 21 August 1796, Jefferson, N.J. 1812–20, apprentice, then partner, to an engraver copying English book illustrations. 1821, married Lucy Baldwin; hired by John Trumbull to engrave The Declaration of Independence, which established reputation as printmaker. Widowed 1830; married Mary Frank, 1834.
Early 1830s, painted portraits of the presidents; began to also work in landscape and traveled in the White Mountains and Adirondacks. 1840–41, to Europe with John Frederick Kensett and others, visiting England, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. On return to U.S., painted landscapes almost exclusively. 1845–61, second president of National Academy of Design, New York. 1849, painted Kindred Spirits, representing Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant. 1855, published“Letters on Landscape Painting” in The Crayon, influential journal published by his son, John. 1869, retired to Jefferson, N.J. 1878, stopped painting. Died 17 September 1886, Jefferson.
William Kloss Treasures from the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985)
Asher B. Durand studied printmaking with his father and became a successful engraver by age twenty-four. But Thomas Cole’s canvases of New York State’s mountains and cascades inspired Durand to leave engraving and become a painter. He studied in Europe during the summer of 1840, but quickly came to believe that artists should look to the scenery of America for inspiration.