DescriptionThe Hon. Paul H. Buchanan, Jr. Collection
GEORGE HENRY DURRIE (American, 1820-1863)
Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning, circa 1863
Oil on canvas
26 x 36 inches (66.0 x 91.4 cm)
Private collection, Massachusetts, until June 28, 1940;
Gifted by the above to a New England institution (unidentified), which owned it until 1989;
Purchased from Richard York Gallery, New York, December 7, 1989.
Best-known for winter scenes romanticizing cozy seasonal pleasures in the country, George Henry Durrie also painted summer landscapes, portraits, still lifes and a few narratives. A lifelong resident of New Haven, Connecticut, Durrie was mostly self-taught, although he worked intermittently with the New Haven portrait painter and engraver Nathaniel Jocelyn (1796-1881) from 1839 to 1841. In the early 1840s, he traveled quite extensively in search of portrait work, which was his first specialty. Around the middle of the decade, however, he was intensely inspired by the work of Thomas Cole and began concentrating instead upon painting the Connecticut landscape, both around New Haven and Hartford. Although he shared many interests with the Hudson River painters Durrie placed more emphasis on genre elements, concentrating heavily on detail and domestic contentment as opposed to the more theatrical grandeur of someone like Frederic Church. This can be seen in the present work, and in his Returning to the Farm of 1861, a well-known painting from the same period in the New York Historical Society collection, which also depicts a farmer bringing home a sled-load of logs. In both works, the snow covered ground and thick cloud cover provide the dominant grayish tonality, against which bare trees and farmyard details stand out insistently. A heavy atmosphere obscures the clarity of distant hills, though as a rule, his winter scenes are never bleak but rather filled with light and activity, as seen in the present painting. Issued in the 1860s as Currier and Ives prints, ten of Durrie's winter scenes found particularly widespread popularity and inspired imitation.
Although this painting is undated, its attribution to George Henry Durrie has been fully endorsed by Durrie expert, Dr. Martha Hutson-Saxton, who had the opportunity to examine it firsthand in 1989 when it emerged on the art market. In her letter dated December 8, 1989 preserved among Judge Buchanan's papers, Hutson-Saxton stated: "I was very impressed with the painting, Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning by George Henry Durrie (1820-1863). This version with the ox sledge, 26 x 36 inches, is an exceptionally fine work. Durrie was developing this composition at the end of his life in 1863. The painting was most likely in his studio at his death, which would explain the lack of signature. At age forty-three, Durrie was painting at the height of his stylistic development. Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning is one of his best contributions to native winter landscape painting in the nineteenth century."
In recent correspondence with Heritage, Dr. Hutson-Saxton noted that Durrie regularly produced versions of the compositions he particularly liked or found to be commercially successful, and that Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning was one of these. She noted that this composition in this 26" by 36" canvas size first appeared in 1861 with a man walking up the road instead of the ox sledge (see M.Y. Hutson, George Henry Durrie (1820-1863). American Winter Landscapist: Renowned Through Currier and Ives, 1978, fig. 185, p. 173, as with Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York). That painting was lithographed by Currier and Ives in 1864 (see Hutson, fig. 183). Durrie proceeded to paint the composition several times in this size between 1861 and 1863, and in smaller versions as well - some signed and some unsigned. In all of them Durrie included the bright yellow house with green shutters, the gray barns and outbuildings, a smattering of chickens, and the towering bare tree with its multiple highlights and its branches flecked with snow against a patchy dark-bright sky. That trademark motif is painted with tremendous confidence - and obvious relish - in the present work.
In his personal art library, Judge Buchanan preserved an article by Wendell Garrett from the December 1981 issue of the magazine Antiques, which gives insight into his admiration for Durrie's work as something that treats a moral subject. He wrote in red marker in the margin of the article, "Durrie exemplifies this sentiment" beside the following passage: "Even today the belief survives that farming is a superior way of life. There is something innately good about the farmer; there is a moral superiority to be found in the self-sufficiency of the family farm that is lacking in clattering factories and congested cities. 'Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens,' Thomas Jefferson wrote John Jay in 1785. 'They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.' "
Whether or not Buchanan owned his Durrie before he read this article and saw Arcadia Gallery's ad for a large Durrie farm scene (The Half-Way House) in the same issue is unclear. However, it is intriguing to wonder whether these words kindled in him the desire to own a painting by Durrie, or whether the words were an affirmation of what he had already regarded as the underlying significance of Durrie's imagery. Either way, Judge Buchanan's acquisition of Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning in 1989 was a watermark in his collecting career because it was, by far, the most expensive American painting he had ever bought.
We are grateful to Dr. Martha Hutson-Saxton for her scholarly generosity and for her permission to quote from her letter of 1989 in this catalogue note.
Relined canvas. Well-preserved paint surface fully intact, except for a 6" x 2" vertical passage to the left of the principal trees in the center of the composition where under black light, there is evidence of newer paint. Newer acrylic varnish may date from its period of acquisition from Richard York Gallery, 1989.
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