Hunter in Winter Wood, by George Henry Durrie 1860 is one of my favorite images of 19th century Americana. The snow on the bare trees and rocky outcroppings gives the impression of weight, yet it is only a light dusting. The way the light shines golden on the snow—this is how a snowy winter looked in the woods surrounding the rural lake where I grew up. The grandeur of the view shows the 19th century vision of a wide, boundless country. Anything is possible in a country where the land and resources are as limitless as shown in this painting.
Hunter in Winter Wood was painted near the end of Durrie’s life. His most famous works were made into prints by Currier and Ives after his death at the age of 43.
About the Artist, quoted from the National Gallery of Art:
Born in New Haven in 1820, the son of a Connecticut stationer, George Henry Durrie remained in that city virtually his entire life. Married to a choirmaster’s daughter, Sarah Perkins, in 1841, he immersed himself in the quiet pursuits of family and church. While he never achieved the fame of the most renowned nineteenth century American landscape painters, he appears to have had a fulfilling, productive career. His letters show that he never felt the need to move beyond his community, although he once briefly took a studio in New York and exhibited there regularly at the National Academy of Design.
Almost all of his compositions are relatively small in scale, few exceeding 18 x 24 inches, and his views are quiet and intimate. He knew and admired the works of Thomas Cole, and may have tried to emulate certain aspects of Cole’s style, yet he eschewed the Hudson River School’s compositional complexity and expansiveness. Because his paintings combined extensive genre elements with landscape they had a story-telling content that made them pleasant, accessible images to the average viewer.
The lithographic firm of Currier & Ives successfully reproduced ten of Durrie’s scenes and these, in turn, became popular calendar illustrations in the twentieth century. As a result, Durrie’s depictions of rural life in the mid-nineteenth century are now among the most familiar images in all of American art. As Martha Hutson has noted, however, these printed pictures do not convey the keen sensitivity to and understanding of conditions of atmosphere and light that are so pronounced in Durrie’s paintings.
In his teens the self-taught artist painted portraits in the New Haven area. In 1839 he received artistic instruction from Nathaniel Jocelyn, a local engraver and portrait painter. After 1842 he settled in New Haven, but made painting trips to New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. Around 1850, he began painting genre scenes of rural life, as well as the winter landscapes that became popular when Currier and Ives published them as lithographs. Four prints were published between 1860 and the artist’s death in New Haven in 1863; six additional prints were issued posthumously. The painter Jeanette Shepperd Harrison Loop studied with him.
Credits and Attributions:
Hunter in Winter Wood, by George Henry Durrie 1860 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Wikipedia contributors, “George Henry Durrie,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=George_Henry_Durrie&oldid=861433469 (accessed November 23, 2018).
National Gallery of Art contributors, “George Henry Durrie,” biography, © 2018 National Gallery of Art, https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.6397.html