Was Asher B. Durand a Proto-Vegan or Just a Vegetarian: Art as Therapy?

The leader of the second-generation Hudson River School painters, Asher B. Durand (1796–1886), believed in the therapeutic power of Nature. Durand’s empiricism and dedication to Nature are evident in the Historical Society’s ten sketchbooks (two of which are fragments of disassembled sketchbooks), 310 drawings, and 79 paintings. These works are joined by an extensive trove of objects, documents, and prints that together make up the largest holding of Durand material in the world. Durand’s sketchbooks are featured in the just-published issue of Master Drawings in my article, “Asher B. Durand’s Sketchbooks in the New-York Historical Society.”

N-YHS’s rich repository is largely due to the generosity of his descendants: the artist’s son John (1822–1928); his daughter Lucy Maria Durand Woodman (1829–1910), an artist in her own right; and his granddaughter Nora Durand Woodman (1864–1935).

The lion’s share of the hundreds of drawings focus on Durand’s two favorite subjects that run like leitmotifs through his oeuvre and are meditations on mortality: trees and rocks. Moreover, Durand—seen as a 20-something in his idealistic self-portrait—was a fascinating person.

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