Asher Durand | Kindred Spirits

Asher B. Durand, Kindred Spirits

Asher B. Durand (1796–1886)
Kindred Spirits, 1849
Oil on canvas, 44 x 36 inches
Collection Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR

Kindred Spirits depicts fellow Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant engulfed in a Catskill landscape. This work was painted as a tribute to Cole upon his death in 1848. Durand, several years older than Cole and already a successful engraver, had been inspired by Cole in the 1830s to take up landscape painting and became a leading figure of the Hudson River School. Kindred Spirits pays homage to the great man who inspired generations of artists to seriously take up painting the American landscape.

New York merchant and art collector Jonathan Sturges commissioned Durand to capture the friendship between Cole and Bryant. Sturges specifically requested that the pair be represented as “kindred spirits,” an idea inspired by the English poet John Keats’s sonnet “To Solitude” (1816), a paean to nature (“climb with me the steep,- Nature’s observatory”). The sonnet concludes:

Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind, Those words are images of thoughts refin’d, Is my soul’s pleasure; and sure it must be Almost the highest bliss of human-kind, When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Although executed in the realistic style that Durand practiced and championed for his fellow artists, the painting’s idealized composition brings together two famous sites, Fawns Leap in Kaaterskill Clove and the Kaaterskill Falls, which could not be viewed at the same time. Rather than a strict depiction of a particular view, the painting synthesizes in one stirring scene the richness of an area that Cole had explored and depicted over his career as a painter. Kindred Spirits is meant to embody the intimate connection between Durand, Bryant, and Cole, likeminded spirits united in a common artistic vision. The work is a stirring tribute to the two men who were so connected to the beauties of nature and allied in their strong sense of place. The painting can be seen as a tribute to a philosophical and intellectual brotherhood between the three men who had collaborated on “The American Landscape” (1830), a collection of vignettes published by the Sketch Club in New York.

The painting remained in the Bryant family until Bryant’s daughter, Julia, donated it to the New York Public Library in early 1904. It was recently purchased by the Walton Family Foundation in a silent bid auction from its former owner, the New York Public Library.