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The American Landscapes of Asher B. Durand to Be Explored in Exhibition at Fundación Juan March
Asher B. Durand, "Catskill Clove, New York", 1864. Oil on canvas. The New York Historical Society.

MADRID.- This exhibition of 140 works—including oil paintings, drawings and prints—is the first monographic exhibition devoted to Durand outside the United States, where he is recognized as a leading landscape painter and pioneer engraver.

Through an important selection of works, the exhibition will reveal Durand’s unique genius as a landscape painter and portraitist. During his long artistic career Durand depicted the bucolic beauty of the American landscape.

As many other nineteenth-century American artists and writers, Asher B Durand (1796-1886) embarked on a European tour in June 1840. In the company and friends and fellow painters, Durand left the port of New York for London with the intention of travelling to several European cities—a common interest at the time—and the sole purpose of “instruction alone.” After 170 years, almost two centuries later, Durand’s artwork returns to Europe. This time he travels alone (with the exception of a small display of works by his contemporaries and followers). An important selection of 140 works by Durand, including oil paintings, drawings and prints, will be featured at the exhibition. Durand is recognized as a leading landscape painter and pioneer engraver in his native United States. This, however, is the first monographic exhibition in Europe devoted to the artist and therefore aims to display Durand’s remarkable talent in portraiture and landscape painting, in which he depicted the bucolic beauty of the American landscape.

Durand’s work is held by major private and public collections in the United States and has also been displayed at national and international group exhibitions devoted to American landscape painting. This exhibition, entitled The American Landscapes of Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), is the first dedicated to the artist outside the United States and can be seen at the Fundación Juan March’s headquarters in Madrid from October 1, 2010 to January 9, 2011.

Durand divided his time between New York and frequent excursions to the mountains and valleys of the surrounding countryside. Because of his longevity, his oeuvre spans nearly the entire nineteenth century and therefore provides an ideal view point from which to contemplate the main features of nineteenth-century American culture. Hence the name of the exhibition. Though the term “landscapes” refers to the geographic locations where Durand worked—the Catskill Mountains, Adirondacks, and the valleys and vistas of the Hudson River—, it also alludes to his “intellectual landscapes.” Durand’s was a spiritual and naturalistic portrayal of America, much in the line of Thoreau, Emerson and Whitman. His paintings communicate an emerging sense of nationhood, the growth of cosmopolitan New York City during the 1800s, and the transformation of Europe’s cultural—and also artistic—tradition into American heritage.

Due to the array of possibilities such a context offers, the exhibition catalogue not only features a fine selection of works, but a collection of essays by recognized authorities in the field. These essays present a series of approaches into the work of Durand, a varied yet coherent and comprehensive view of both the painter and his oeuvre. The reader will undoubtedly draw such conclusions from these writings by noted scholars on Durand and nineteenth-century American art: Drs. Linda S. Ferber and Barbara Novak—author of an article published in The Art Journal in 1962 that led to Durand’s resurgence in popularity—, Barbara Dayer Gallati, Rebecca Bedell, Roberta Olson, Marilyn Kushner, and Kimberly Orcutt.

In addition to the exhibition catalogue, a semi-fascimile and bilingual edition of Durand’s nine Letters on Land Landscape Painting has also been published. These writings, originally printed in 1855 in The Crayon (the first American periodical devoted to the fine arts), relate the artist’s theories on art and combine spiritual thoughts with practical recommendations on the art of painting.

The majority of works on display draw on the holdings of the New-York Historical Society. Furthermore, the project has been overseen by Dr. Linda S. Ferber, curator of the Society and a renowned expert on the work of A. B. Durand. In fact, The American Landscapes of Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) is the result of two years of close collaboration between the Fundación Juan March and the New-York Historical Society. Thanks to the contributions of several other individuals and organizations, both institutions have discovered, quite naturally and efficiently, the common interests and goals they share.

Founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society is the oldest museum in New York. It has played a major role in understanding the importance of the city in forging the history and culture of modern America. The Society houses a vast collection of works of art and historical documents, including the world’s largest collection of paintings by Asher B. Durand. As mentioned earlier, Durand’s work is linked to the making of modern New York. The Society therefore strives to promote his oeuvre.

For both institutions, the possibility of jointly conceiving and organizing the first exhibition devoted to Asher B. Durand in Europe—where his work has only been displayed in group exhibitions—revealed itself as an excellent opportunity to fulfill two wishes: to introduce a different tradition where it is still unknown and to make the unfamiliar one’s own with the purpose of sharing it with more individuals. The result is this exhibition, on view at The Fundación Juan March this fall.

On his first and last trip to Europe, Durand acquired first-hand knowledge of the works of European masters. (He also developed certain tastes, such as a fondness for Rubens and Rembrandt, Claude Lorrain or Constable, or a lesser interest in Turner, to name but a few examples). The American Landscapes of Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) represents a second voyage to Europe in several ways. It is a return journey, not for Durand himself, but of his works—now made accessible to all those who wish to view them. To European eyes, encountering these works for the first time will mean embarking on a journey of discovery similar to Durand’s.

The exhibition therefore aims to recreate his trip, yet with the opposite effect: the European audience will now become acquainted with the Durand’s oeuvre and perhaps go a step further by perceiving the reality and landscape of America through the artist’s eyes. Such is the reason for any retrospective (the origin of this word implies the act of looking back): “Our age”—wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841, the year Durand returned from his first trip to Europe— “is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes.” These words, with which Emerson began one of his famous treatises, refer to the image of nature Durand saw with his own eyes; a vision we are now able to contemplate, enjoy, and comprehend thanks to his legacy.

Madrid | Asher B. Durand | Fundación Juan March |

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