Asher Brown Durand
A prominent member of the Hudson river school movement of landscape painters. Their work reflected 19th century American ideals of Discovery, Exploration, and Settlement. Generally their paintings tended to be portrayed as highly realistic yet idealistic representations of nature.
Durand as with many academic painters studied the classical old masters, and also studied from life extensively. He is suspected to have been influenced on his route to focusing on landscape painting after seeing the artwork of artists such as Kensett, Casilear, and Constable. The latter being the most influential, after viewing one painting Durand was quoted as saying that it evinced "more of simple truth and naturalness than any English landscape I have ever before met with." (quote from the above museum link)
Hudson river in the woods, by Asher Brown Durand. This painting was taken from Artmight.com.
Description and interpretation
The above painting by Durand is a representational painting of a woodland area near the Hudson river, it was created in 1855. The painting like many Hudson river school artworks was created as a representational depiction of nature, in Durands' case he was known for focusing on the nuances of light and colour which can be clearly seen in the above piece.
The painting is using a vibrant colour pallet containing hues of reds, greens, blues, yellows, mainly the colour pallet is very warm in tone. With hints of cool blues, greens on the trunks of the trees and the fallen debris which creates contrast.
There is a strong sense of directional spot light in the centre of the image. The pictures main point of interest is the mid section of the painting wit hthe surround elements used to frame that area of pooled light.
There are hints of pooled light (light which is used in small amounts here and there to create interest points) in the background, and foreground, as well as off to the side of the midground. Durand was well known for his use of pooled light, and is generally studied because of these types of nuances in his paintings which can add interest to any environmental painting.
The river snakes throughout the lower half of the painting create a natural path in which to direct the viewer. The horizontals created by the fallen trees and the verticals created by the trees to the left and right of the spot light in the centre of the painting all help to frame this main point of interest. In general a simple triangular composition has been used to frame the major point of interest.
There are zigzagging patterns created by the river, trees, and other elements throughout the painting, this helps to keep the viewer interested and moving around the different elements of the painting. As mentioned there are many points of pooled light throughout the painting which help to draw interest to the non essential parts of the image that have different elements of interest such as the squirrel on the fallen foreground tree trunk.
The use in contrast is not limited to the light, throughout the painting the contrast between loose suggestive brush strokes next to tight detailing creates many points of interest without the painting becoming a hard read, or overly complex.
Texture in the painting appears to have been created by creating large swatches of suggestive brush strokes intermixed with detailing. This is something I've always struggled to remember to do in my own work, so I find analysing a painting that does this so well very informative.
There is a clear pattern of light, dark, light, dark, loose, detailed, loose, detailed, etc throughout the painting, this appears to serve 2 purposes. Firstly creating a very interesting painting that has many points of interest which are all naturally balanced out by their opposite. And secondly to provide contrast throughout the painting.
I believe Asher Brown Durant is another artist whom is considered by many to be an 'old' master painter, and the above painting is clearly a masterpiece in technique and visual fidelity. Which means much like the previous painting by Gerome it is a great painting to study to learn different techniques that can be applied to your own works.
I have personally always found Durant to be a great artist whom to study the use of light from, all of his paintings depict light in a spectacular idealistic representation, which give a good example of how you can from subjects and use light to allow a viewer to traverse a piece.
I have actually studied this piece previously when I was younger and just starting to learn about how to use light, the quality of my work improved noticeably after the study. What I like the most about paintings of this stand of execution is that no matter how good you are as an artist you can always go back and learn something new from them that perhaps you didnt noticed before. Or from personal experience has given you a greater insight in to what the artists intentions were.
An example of this is where I have mentioned the patterning and why its been used, I would not have noticed this when I was just starting out in art, or understood why he was using it in that way. I would have probably just been overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the painting. However now I can look at it much more critically and therefore garner more information which can be used to inform my own work. I feel this is an important reason why you should always find time to study the old master painters who were really at the pinnacle of their craft.