The Hudson River School and the Tonalist Movement are two great periods in American landscape painting. They are oftentimes referred to as being distinctly American, although both periods had their roots in Europe. Many of America’s famous artists, like Frederic Church, Asher Durand, George Inness and James Whistler, were part of one of these movements.
Beyond the examples of their paintings, we are fortunate to have what are considered to be each movements textbooks: Asher B. Durand’s, Letters on Landscape Painting (1855) and Birge Harrison’s Landscape Painting (1910). Now, for the first time, both books are available in one volume, Landscape Painting, by Asher B. Durand and Birge Harrison.
In 1855, Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), a leading painter of the Hudson River School, wrote a series of nine articles for The Crayon, his son’s art periodical. The articles, known as letters, were to be read as a response to a number of enquiries from would-be students. The nine articles, Letters on Landscape Painting, outlined Durand’s thoughts on learning how to paint landscapes.
There are perhaps two overriding themes in Durand’s nine letters: that Nature is a visual representation of God’s truth, and that a true painting is built up from a number of smaller studies which were to be done directly from Nature. It is clear that Durand did not hide his light under a bushel. But whatever the reader’s religious preference, there is much to be learned about landscape painting in his letters.
Under the open sky go forth and listen to Nature’s teachings, while from all around the Earth and her waters, and the depths of air, comes a still voice.
Asher B Durand (1855)
In the early 1900s, Birge Harrison, a prominent figure in the American Tonalist movement and a director of the landscape school of the Art Students League, gave a series of lectures to the students at the League’s summer school in Woodstock, New York. He later compiled those twenty-one lectures into the book, Landscape Painting. Then, as now, the book was considered to be a standard work for students of landscape painting.
Like Durand before him, Harrison directs the student to nature. Despite, or perhaps because of its Tonalist outlook, Landscape Painting, has become a standard reference for many a plein air landscape painter. Even though Harrison’s lectures were given to students of landscape painting, there is a wealth of information in them about representational painting and seeing in general. Many of his comments and directions will also be useful to students of still life, portrait and figure painting.
Take my word for it, technique is not the difficult thing in art. Any reasonably capable youth can readily master all of the technical problems in existence in a few short months, but it requires many a long and weary year to learn to see.
Birge Harrison (1910)
We sometimes forget, especially as we paint, how awe inspiring our views are. This book reminds you that you should pause, breathe, and wonder…THEN paint!
Wonderful book from two great artists. Inspiring and informative for anyone who wishes to paint the beauty of Nature. The work of both these men is tribute to their abilities.