kindred spirits by asher durand

“Kindred Spirits” by Asher Durand – A Celebration of Landscape

Kindred Spirits, painted by Asher B. Durand in 1849, stands as a quintessential representation of the Hudson River School, a mid-19th century American art movement celebrated for its romantic and picturesque landscapes. This iconic work was created to honor the deep friendship and shared artistic vision between poet William Cullen Bryant and painter Thomas Cole, the latter being a prominent figure in the Hudson River School. Set in the breathtaking wilderness of the Catskill Mountains, Kindred Spirits captures the sublime beauty and spiritual essence of nature, reflecting the transcendentalist ideals of the period. Durand’s meticulous attention to detail and his ability to convey the majesty of the American landscape make this painting a significant piece in the canon of American art.



Key Takeaways

  • Kindred Spirits is a quintessential Asher Durand work that captures the essence of American landscape art.
  • The painting represents a profound connection between art, nature, and intellectual kinship reflective of transcendentalist values.
  • Durand’s piece contributes significantly to the legacy and understanding of the Hudson River School and its impact on American art.



Historical Context

ArtistAsher Brown Durand (1796 – 1886)
Date Created1849
MediumOil on canvas
Period/MovementHudson River School
Dimensions (cm)116.8 x 91.4 
Where Is It Housed?Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas, United States
What It Is WorthEstimated at $35 million (private sale in 2005)

Kindred Spirits at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a celebrated work by Asher Brown Durand, an influential figure in the Hudson River School of painters. Completed in 1849, the piece is a shining example of American landscape painting. The painting is both a tribute to Durand’s friend, the recently deceased painter Thomas Cole, and to poet William Cullen Bryant, depicting them among the majesty of the Catskill Mountains. Durand’s work goes beyond mere representation, encapsulating the intellectual and spiritual synergy between the two men while also showcasing the artist’s mastery over the interplay of light, texture, and nature’s subtleties within his canvas.

context of asher durandAsher Brown Durand, c. 1869, by Abraham Bogardus; See file page for creator info

Renowned for its embodiment of the American wilderness and the philosophical kinship between Cole and Bryant, Kindred Spirits was born from a commission by the merchant-collector Jonathan Sturges as an homage to Cole, who was a mentor and inspiration to Durand. By integrating such elements as Kaaterskill Falls and the verdant forest, Durand enhanced the allegorical qualities of the painting, offering a window into the 19th-century American transcendentalist movement that revered nature’s spiritual significance. The painting’s legacy is a testament to the era’s burgeoning American art scene and its developing national identity.


The Hudson River School

Asher Brown Durand was a central figure in the Hudson River School, a mid-19th-century American art movement comprising a group of landscape painters influenced by Romanticism. The Hudson River School artists were united by their collective desire to capture the untamed and pastoral beauty of the American landscape. Durand’s work, alongside the pieces by other members of the school, emphasized a detailed and realistic portrayal of nature, reflecting a nascent sense of American national identity. Durand’s Kindred Spirits, crafted as an oil on canvas, remains one of the eminent American landscape paintings of its time. It elegantly captures the looming Catskill Mountains, lowering like benevolent guardians over the two figures depicted: the painter Thomas Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant.

Durand’s composition goes beyond a mere tribute to his departed friend and fellow artist, Cole – who passed away in 1848 – it is a reflection of the spiritual and philosophical kinship fostered within this artistic community.

In the broader sweep of the nineteenth century, the Hudson River School’s influence on art history was considerable. The works produced during this period elevated American landscape painting to a status previously reserved for historical and religious subjects. This redefinition of artistic focus resonated with the growing American sentiment that nature and the country’s landscapes were a defining aspect of the national character.

hudson river school by asher durandThe Catskills by Asher Durand, an example of what he painted at the Hudson River School; Asher Brown Durand, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Hudson River School’s recognition and impact were further propelled by the National Academy of Design, an institution where many of the movement’s artists trained and exhibited. Durand himself served as the president of the Academy, which became a key platform for him and his contemporaries to espouse their philosophy of art that underscored nature’s divinity and the artist’s role in conveying the sublimity of the natural world.



Analysis of Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand is an iconic work in American art history, encapsulating the ethos of the Hudson River School through its representation of nature, the portrayal of two significant American figures, and its intricate use of color and light to convey its themes.


Symbolism and Significance

In Kindred Spirits, Durand infuses the canvas with rich symbolism, reflecting an abiding respect for the natural world. Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant, depicted amidst the untouched splendor of the Catskill Mountains, are emblematic of the fusion of art and poetry with the environment. The painting is not a mere topographical replication but an artistic declaration, where the rugged terrain epitomizes the wild, untamed American landscape. The pristine condition of the wilderness conveys an ideal of harmony between humanity and nature, a cornerstone of the Hudson River School philosophy.

Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand AnalysisAsher Durand, Kindred Spirits (1849); Asher Brown Durand, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The Subjects: Cole and Bryant

As subjects, Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant stand as intellectual comrades in Kindred Spirits, set in conversation within the majestic forest. Thomas Cole, with a portfolio under his arm, is the celebrated painter, often deemed the father of the Hudson River School. His legacy and connection to the American wilderness are profound. Adjacent is William Cullen Bryant, a respected nature poet and editor, deepening the painting’s narrative by meshing the visual and literary arts. The placement of these figures in this specific locale is intentional, underscoring their mutual appreciation for the untamed beauty of the American landscape.


Use of Color and Light

Durand’s palette in Kindred Spirits plays a critical role. He employs light and color to draw the eye and underscore the symbiosis between humans and the environment. The sunlight filtering through the trees and the subtle gradients of the sky create a luminous quality, suggesting the transcendent nature of the setting.

Shadows and highlights are used masterfully to accentuate the depth and contours of the natural structures, from the age-worn rocks to the dense foliage.


Artistic Techniques

Durand’s artistic techniques are meticulous in Kindred Spirits, fusing realism with poetic sensibilities. Details are rendered with precision, yet the overall effect is not constrained by rigid accuracy. Instead, there is a fluidity in composition, a rhythmic interplay between the realism of the subjects and the idealized setting. The painting’s texture, the brushwork’s directionality, and the figures’ crisp outlines against the soft backdrop all contribute to the work’s powerful impression.



Beyond the Canvas

Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits reaches beyond the mere representation of nature, invoking deeper reflections on the geographical and natural essence of American identity, specifically within the Catskills.


The Catskills in American Geography and Nature

The Catskills play a pivotal role in America’s geography, showcasing a range of geological features that have long captured the imagination of artists and poets. Durand’s painting places Kaaterskill Clove and Kaaterskill Falls as central elements, not just as physical locations but as embodiments of the American wilderness. These areas in New York are more than just scenic; they represent the rugged beauty and untamed spirit of early American landscapes.

  • Kaaterskill Clove: A deep mountain ravine in the eastern Catskill Mountains.
  • Kaaterskill Falls: A two-stage waterfall, located in the Catskills, with a total height of 260 feet (79 m).

These features, prominent in Kindred Spirits, symbolize not just the topography but also the sense of place that defines American nature.

Durand’s work acts as a eulogy to this wildness, with the painting reflecting a romantic vision of the land, much like the works of nature poet John Keats, whose prose captured the inherent beauty and sublime qualities of the natural world. The Catskills themselves have a storied place in America’s cultural imagination, often serving as an inspiration for a nation looking to define its character through the lens of its natural landscapes. The New York Public Library, among other institutions, has provided a medium through which the public can engage with works like Kindred Spirits and explore the intertwining of American geography, nature, and culture.



Legacy and Influence

Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits has left a lasting mark on American art with its profound cultural significance and continued presence in notable art collections. Its evolution from a memory piece to a cultural icon reflects its enduring relevance.

influence of asher durandKindred Spirits (1849); JR P, CC BY-NC 4.0, via Flickr


Cultural Impact

Kindred Spirits emerged as a significant cultural touchstone in American art history, encapsulating the themes of friendship and nature’s majesty. Painted as a commemorative work for Thomas Cole at the request of Cole’s friend Jonathan Sturges, it swiftly grew in esteem, influencing the appreciation of American landscapes.

The romantic depiction of nature’s sublime beauty in the painting became an emblem of the Hudson River School and underscored a burgeoning national identity grounded in the natural landscape.


Preservation and Display

Initially housed in the New York Public Library, Kindred Spirits entered the limelight of controversy when sold to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2005 for approximately $35 million—a testament to its high value. The acquisition by Alice Walton, the museum’s founder, ensured that the work remained accessible to the public.

Presently, Kindred Spirits is preserved as a centerpiece within Crystal Bridges, illustrating the intersection of American history, art, and culture.


Legacy of Kindred Spirits Today

In contemporary times, Kindred Spirits stands not only as a vital historical art piece but also has inspired various aspects of popular culture. Its influence stretches beyond the confines of the art world into broader cultural spheres. The painting’s image and its association with the transcendent qualities of the American landscape continue to resonate, affirming Durand’s work as a cultural artifact that transcends its time.

legacy of kindred spiritsKindred Spirits (1849) by Asher Durand on exhibition; JR P, CC BY-NC 4.0, via Flickr

The work’s pressence across reputed institutions like The Met and Brooklyn Museum, as well as scholarly discussions in Washington’s National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, reinforces its status as a seminal piece in the narrative of American art. Kindred Spirits remains integral to cultural dialogues and memory, as it is consistently referenced in discussions on art, ecology, and national identity.


Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits not only commemorates the profound connection between William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole but also embodies the philosophical and artistic tenets of the Hudson River School. Through its meticulous composition and sublime depiction of the American wilderness, the painting serves as a testament to the 19th-century reverence for nature and the transcendentalist belief in its spiritual significance. Kindred Spirits remains a cherished masterpiece, illustrating Durand’s mastery and the enduring impact of this pivotal art movement on American cultural identity and landscape painting.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Does Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand Depict?

Kindred Spirits showcases the figures of the painter Thomas Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant standing on a rocky ledge overlooking a vast and idealized American wilderness, specifically the Catskill Mountains. This scene embodies the Romantic spirit, depicting these figures within a sublime natural landscape.


How Does Kindred Spirits Represent the Hudson River School Style?

The painting is emblematic of the Hudson River School style through its detailed depiction of natural scenery and the infusion of a serene and contemplative atmosphere. It celebrates the natural beauty of the American landscape, emphasizing dramatic lighting and finely rendered vegetation, which were hallmarks of this artistic movement.


What Techniques Did Asher Durand Employ in Kindred Spirits?

Durand employed a combination of precision in detailing the natural elements and a soft, luminous quality to capture the ethereal mood of the landscape. His technique involved meticulous brushwork to depict the textures of foliage and rock, while skillfully handling light to enhance the painting’s Romantic appeal.


What Is the Historical Significance of Kindred Spirits in American Art?

The historical significance of Kindred Spirits extends beyond its artistic merit, as it was created as a tribute to Thomas Cole following his death. It represents the philosophical kinship between Cole and Bryant and their shared reverence for nature. This piece is also significant for encapsulating the ideals of the Hudson River School and contributing to the burgeoning sense of an American national identity in the arts.


Cite this Article

Jordan, Anthony, ““Kindred Spirits” by Asher Durand – A Celebration of Landscape.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. June 6, 2024. URL:

Anthony, J. (2024, 6 June). “Kindred Spirits” by Asher Durand – A Celebration of Landscape. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source.

Anthony, Jordan. ““Kindred Spirits” by Asher Durand – A Celebration of Landscape.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, June 6, 2024.

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