“Only Surpassed by the Light of Revelation”

Asher Brown Durand’s Thanatopsis

in Religion and the Arts
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Abstract

Asher B. Durand (1796–1886) began his long career in the Hudson River School under the guidance of his mentor, Thomas Cole (1801–1848). Influenced by the death of Cole in 1848 and other factors, Durand turned to the William Cullen Bryant poem, “Thanatopsis.” Durand’s Landscape—Scene fromThanatopsis,’ an expansive allegory with a farmer and a funeral in the foreground illuminated by a sunrise, offers reassurance with its vision of nature’s paradisiacal beauty. The Christianized sublimity of this allegorical Durand painting reveals a hopeful vision for a heavenly paradise. This essay explores the significance of Durand’s 1850 painting in conjunction with Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” a study Durand composed, Classical Landscape (Imaginary Landscape c. 1850), his 1855 Letters on Landscape Painting, as well as Durand’s 1862 repainting of the canvas.

“Only Surpassed by the Light of Revelation”

Asher Brown Durand’s Thanatopsis

in Religion and the Arts

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    Figure 1

    Asher Brown Durand, Landscape—Scene from ‘Thanatopsis,’ 1850. Oil on canvas, 39 ½″ × 61″ (100.3 × 154.9 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911.

  • View in gallery
    Figure 2

    Asher Brown Durand, Classical Landscape (Imaginary Landscape), c. 1850. Oil on canvas, 14 7/8″ × 20 ¾″ (37.8 × 52.7 cm). Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington. Gift of Titus C. Geesey, 1962.

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