The Sketchbooks of Asher B. Durand in the New-York Historical Society
Asher B. Durand (1796–1886), a central artist of the Hudson River School, spent nearly twenty-four years as a successful commercial engraver. His talent as an engraver was based on his drawing skills, explaining his insistence on the importance of outline, the precise renderings in his sketchbooks and drawings, and his devotion to sketching with graphite outdoors. The artist’s empiricism and dedication to Nature is evident in the ten sketchbooks (two fragmentary from sketchbooks now disassembled), 310 drawings, and 79 paintings held by the Historical Society, where they are joined by an extensive trove of objects, documents, and prints that make it the largest single Durand collection extant. This rich repository is largely due to the generosity of his descendants: his son John; his daughter Lucy Maria Durand Woodman, an artist in her own right; and his granddaughter Nora Durand Woodman. The vast majority of his drawings are studies of trees rendered with solid realism and a poetic depth. Although Durand’s drawings, including those in the sketchbooks, were primarily for personal study, they played a central role in Durand’s aesthetic process.
For additional information on Durand’s sketchbooks, see Roberta J.M. Olson, “‘A Magnificent Obsession’: Durand’s Trees as Spiritual Sentinels of Nature,” in The American Landscapes of Asher B. Durand (1796–1886), ed. by Linda S. Ferber, exh. cat., Madrid: Fundación Juan March, 2010, pp. 148–191; Roberta J.M. Olson, “The Sketchbooks of Asher B. Durand in the New-York Historical Society,” Master Drawings, vol. 54, no. 4 (Winter 2016), pp. 433-476.