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Asher B. Durand's Day Job
It's not uncommon for working artists to have a "day job." Being an artist therefore creates the equivalent of working two jobs. One, of course, puts food on the table, the other puts satisfaction in the heart. One allows the artist a home life, the other eats it up. At one he or she earns a living, while the other sometimes may actually be something of a costly hobby. Lucky is the individual who has a day job that is art related, allowing him to avoid the virtual split-personality which is often the case when the artist's real world and his art world tend to compete for his time and affections. Every artist in this situation hopes that one day, his or her art will lift from them the burden this dual existence and allow them to concentrate on that which they loves best. It happens. The dream does sometimes come true. It happened that way for the early American artist, Asher Brown Durand.

Born in 1796, Durand apprenticed to an engraver. All during the 1820s and 30s he worked long and hard at his trade, enjoying great success to the point that by the time he was thirty, he was the top engraver in the entire country, rendering etched printing plates for everything from business letterheads, stocks, and bonds, to commercial bank notes. On the side, he began painting portraits of his wealthy commercial clients. Living and working in New York City, he met Thomas Cole, then the pre-eminent landscape painter in the country. Cole encouraged him to try landscapes and often took him along to the country where they painted together. By the 1940s, Durand had switched from portraits to landscapes - rendering scenes up and down the Hudson River, later venturing into the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountains which made up the New York state geography. Engraving had been work. This was a labour of love. Following the dream of most truly dedicated artists, he eventually gave up his day job.

Although he assumed the mantle as the leader of what's since been deemed the Hudson River School, Durand was no plein air painter or slave to nature. His works were always done in his studio, usually during the winter months based upon detailed drawings he'd done on location during the summer. Already well to do, paintings such as his 1849 Kindred Spirits made him wealthy. In Europe, it was the Romantic era, and that was the case also in this country, at least insofar as the American landscape was concerned. Clients would often commission landscapes, describing what they wanted to see, sometimes including sentimental details, from which Durand would create nostalgic, somewhat idealised woodland settings based on his own designs, but often following formulas of his own invention or those copied from the great landscape painters of Europe. So broad was his experience and travels that he could often render actual locations from memory. Durand died in 1886 at the age of ninety, long after the tranquil, bucolic, Hudson River settings he'd painted as a young man had ceased to exist under the relentless march of civilisation. He never once regretted giving up his "day job."

Contributed by Lane, Jim
9 January 2000


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