Asher B. Durand (American, 1796–1886)
Oil on canvas
60 3/4 x 48 in. (154.3 x 121.9 cm)
Gift in memory of Jonathan Sturges by his children, 1895 (95.13.1)
In the Woods is not only arguably the masterpiece of Durand's career as a landscape painter but, executed a decade later than the Museum's Beeches, measures the artist's striking advance in the naturalistic ideals he set for himself following his travel to Europe in 1840–41. Admiring the works of John Constable on that journey, Durand recognized the critical importance of plein-air sketching in imparting a sense of natural verisimilitude to his studio paintings. In the late 1840s, moreover, the English critic John Ruskin's prescriptions of "truth to nature" only fortified Durand's aesthetic standard, honing both his perceptual and technical skills outdoors and in the studio, and expanding the appeal chiefly of his woodland scenes beyond the visual to the tactile: his sylvan surfaces of bark, lichen, and moss beg the sense of touch as well as of sight. At the same time, his compositions of converging, weathered trees, their leafage filtering celestial light, evoke the idealism of Durand's friend, the poet William Cullen Bryant, who in his "Forest Hymn" had asserted, "The groves were God's first temples."