Thursday, July 04, 2013

To Commemorate The Day

Asher Durand (1796-1886)
The Catskills
The Walters Museum, Baltimore

Oil On Canvas
62 1/2 By 50 1/2 Inches


“The Catskills” is one of Asher Durand’s most acclaimed works. Durand painted it on commission from William T. Walters, patriarch of Baltimore’s Walters family (in whose namesake museum the painting now hangs).

As a general rule, the Walters family did not collect American art; the family’s passions were Greek and Roman antiquities, Medieval artworks and Old Master paintings.

I was, in consequence, startled when I came face-to-face with this masterpiece at The Walters Museum in March 2009. At the time, “The Catskills” was hung in the long, Louvre-like gallery of European paintings on the top floor of the Walters’s newest of three adjacent buildings. I had not expected to encounter there a prime example of American Transcendental landscape painting. “The Catskills” is the finest Durand painting I have seen (I have never seen “Kindred Spirits”, owned by the Crystal Bridges Museum).

In December 2007, Joshua and I had traveled to Washington to see three important art exhibitions: a J.M.W. Turner exhibition; an Edward Hopper exhibition; and an exhibition of portraits exploring Spain’s connection to The American Revolution.

A fourth important exhibition had been in the city at the time, but Josh and I had skipped it: an exhibition of 57 Durand landscape paintings, the largest such exhibition ever assembled. Josh and I were fools to have missed the Durand exhibition.

My father’s Christmas gift to my mother that year was a trip to Washington to see all four exhibitions—and in January 2008 my parents traveled to Washington to see the exhibitions.

At the Durand exhibition in Washington, “The Catskills” was on prominent display, having been loaned by The Walters.

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