Asher B. Durand. Oil on canvas, 1849, 44 x 36 in. Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR.
Thomas Cole's sudden death from pleurisy, a lung condition, on 11 February 1848, sent shockwaves through New York society and stunned his close circle of friends. Cole's patron Jonathan Sturges commissioned Asher B. Durand to create a painting in his memory, in which Cole and the poet William Cullen Bryant were depicted as "kindred spirits." The artist's vision of the American landscape captured what the poet had described as:
the absence of those tamings and softenings of cultivation...a far spread wildness, a look as if the new world was fresher from the Hand of Him who made it...abstracting the mind from the associations of human agency [and carrying it] up to the idea of a mightier power and to the great mystery of the origins of things. 1
Sturges gave Kindred Spirits to Bryant as thanks for delivering a poetic eulogy for Cole on 4 May 1848. Cole, Bryant, and Durand were indeed close throughout their lives, with combined friendships spanning over eighty years. All three artists shared an intimate spiritual relationship with nature and sought to convey that relationship through poetry and paintings.
Cole met Bryant when both men arrived in New York City in the 1820s. The two socialized at the Bread and Cheese Club, a lunchtime gathering of writers, artists, and other intellectuals who met to discuss art and culture. Established in 1827, 2 the Sketch Club continued to foster relationships among writers, patrons, and Hudson River School artists; it provided a venue where these three men could meet. Durand bought one of Cole's first Catskill landscape paintings in 1825, marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the two men. It was Cole who first encouraged Durand, an engraver and painter of portraits and genre scenes, to turn to landscape painting. Cole and Durand took many sketching trips together to the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountains throughout their lives, and Cole even taught Durand to sketch and paint outdoors.
Cole and Bryant shared an interest in Europe; each took two trips there (separately) in the 1830s and 1840s. The ruins of Italy both deeply affected the two men and resonated in their respective works. Durand, however, found more pleasure in the hidden forest niches of New York than in European scenery, making only one trip to Italy during his life. Despite the distances imposed by their various travels, the three men were in constant contact through letters and met in New York as often as possible. 3