After establishing a successful career as an engraver and portraitist, Durand began specializing in landscapes during the late 1830s. He usually presented the gentler, bucolic aspects of nature rather than the awesome Sturm und Drang that typified Cole's romantic style. His landscapes differ from Cole's, as well, in that they are drawn quite precisely, with a subtle treatment of light and texture that conveys a contemplative or poetic mood. His careful attention to specific details and his meticulous draftsmanship are evident in Forest in the Morning Light, one in a series of "tree portraits" painted by Durand between the mid-1840s and the mid-1870s. In this rendition, one of the most striking pictures in the group, the central figure is the diagonally placed tree in the foreground. Its dark leaves nearly obscure the sky, allowing only patches of sunlight to illuminate the mossy trunks. In the distance, a mountain is visible through a break in the dense foliage.
Durand emphasized the importance of the close, almost scientific, observation of nature. He took numerous excursions in the woods so that he could paint directly from nature, and also published his theories in the influential art magazine, The Crayon.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I, which is available as a free PDF at https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-19th-century-part-1.pdf
lower right: ABD
Possibly Jonathan Sturges [1802-1874], New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut; his son, Frederick Sturges [d. 1917], New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut; his son, Frederick Sturges, Jr. [1876-1977], New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut; bequest 1978 to NGA.
- Possibly Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, 1854, no. 140, as Landscape (lent by Jonathan Sturges).
- Loan for display with permanent collection, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1995-1996.
- East of the Mississippi, National Gallery of Art, Washington; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, 2017 - 2018, no. 75.
- Lawall, David B. Asher B. Durand: A Documentary Catalogue of the Narrative and Landscape Painting. New York and London, 1978: possibly no. 183.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 146, repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 11, repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: color repro. 105, 113.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 13, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 162, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 233, repro. (not in 1995 rev. ed.).
- Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 138-142, color repro.
The support is a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. The painting has been lined and the original tacking margins have been removed, but cusping exists on the right edge. The white, textured ground layer, applied evenly across the surface of the canvas, is rather thick in comparison to the paint. Infrared reflectography indicates what may be chalk or charcoal underdrawing or possibly underpainting executed in very dry paint. Two linear depressions along the trunk of the central tree are visible through x-radiography, suggesting that the artist scratched an initial compositional detail into the wet ground. Indications of changes and alterations occur throughout the paint layer, particularly in the tree branches along the top edge. Inpainting is found only along one crack at the right edge of the painting. The varnish has not discolored.