Sketch from Nature

Artist: Asher Brown Durand (American, Jefferson, New Jersey 1796–1886 Maplewood, New Jersey)

Date: ca. 1855

Medium: Graphite on gray-green wove paper

Dimensions: 13 13/16 x 9 7/8 in. (35.1 x 25.1 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. John Sylvester, 1936

Accession Number: 36.63.1


In his series of essays published in 1855, “Letters on Landscape Painting,” Durand emphasized the vital importance of drawing to the production of art. Most of the drawings he made on summer sketching trips, such as this example, are intimate studies of natural forms. Trees were Durand’s favorite subject in both his drawings and his paintings and the examples depicted here reveal the artist’s extraordinary acuity in observing the nuances of form—the thick, gnarled roots twisting into the soil, the coarse bark, swollen knobs, and odd angles of the limbs and trunks. He took advantage of the positive and negative space produced by the exposed roots to create a lively patterning of light and shade. In contrast with the spirited three-dimensionality of the foreground subject, the trees in the background are barely indicated.