Asher Brown Durand
Through the Woods, 1856
Oil on canvas
Gift of Matthew Vassar
Dimensions: Unframed: 20 1/4 x 15 1/2 in. (51.44 x 39.37 cm)
Framed: 24 1/4 x 19 1/4 x 2 in. (61.6 x 48.9 x 5.08 cm)
Signatures, Inscriptions and Markings v
Collections: Elias Magoon
Published References v
Harvey K. Flad, “Nineteenth-century Artists in the Shawangunks,” Hudson River Valley Review, Hudson River Valley Institute, Vol. 31, no. 16 (Autumn 2014). p. 106, no. 12, repr.
Exhibition History v
Poughkeepsie, NY, Vassar College Art Gallery, "All Seasons and Every Light" 14 Oct. - 16 Dec. 1983
Lincoln, MA, DeCordova and Dana Museum and Park, "All Seasons and Every Light" 5 Feb. - 25 March, 1984.
West Palm Beach, FL, Norton Museum of Art, "All Seasons and Every Light" 25 March - 1 July 1984.
Evanston, IL, Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Northwestern University, "All Seasons and Every Light" 16 Nov. 1984 - 13 Jan. 1985.
Asher Brown Durand started his artistic career apprenticed to an engraver in New York. With the encouragement of sponsors, he started to paint seriously in the 1830s. Travels to Europe in the company of other artists such as John Kensett and John Casilear opened his eyes to landscape painting as a serious pursuit, and he joined Thomas Cole as a spiritual co-leader of this field in America, ascending to the presidency of the National Academy of Design in 1845, a post he held until 1861. His early views on the method of painting directly from nature and observing its details closely were illustrated by an influential series of eight articles he published in 1855 entitled “Letters to a Landscape Painter.” Through the Woods is a sun-dappled view of oak and beech trees in mid-summer crisscrossing near a stream, their limbs forming the natural equivalent of the tall and elegant vaulting system of a Gothic cathedral. The scene is near the banks of the Hudson River and one can recognize its location through the trees by the flat-topped landmass that de- scends rapidly to the river’s edge. Elias Magoon knew Durand well and wrote to him about this painting after receiving it in 1856. With characteristically florid turns of phrase and flattery, Magoon summed up the essence of Durand’s picture after studying what he called the artist’s “Peep through the Woods” during his “Monday recreation”:
As my eye rests on those great, calm children of the woods in the foreground, and then irresistibly falls back reach after reach through the glorious perspective to the still mightier hills in the remote distance, I have the fitting aisle of a majestic cathedral wherein to extemporize te Deums and High Masses at my own sweet will. Just now I was so uproarious in my devout admiration that Woodpecker blushed scarlet to the top of his head, and Squirrel snapped his ruffled tail and jerked up his left foot in rebuke.
Both woodpecker and squirrel can be found in the foreground of the painting.