In the mid-19th century, landscape painting became central to American artists’ attempts to craft a sense of place and identity for the young nation. American artists began painting grand, sweeping views of American scenery that made the landscape a metaphor for the country’s promise and potential. Asher Brown Durand’s paintings inspired a generation of American artists to revere landscape painting as the most elevated form of American art. Durand was an important teacher whose students went on to paint all across the country, from the Hudson River Valley and Louisiana’s swamplands to the American West. Durand implored American artists to “go first to nature,” to learn all of the most important principles of fine art, arguing that the humblest rock could teach painters more than the finest art school. Durand was one of the first American landscape painters to paint nature en plein air, directly on the spot, and often carried his large, heavy canvases and oil paints into deeply secluded parts of the forest to capture the atmospheric effects of light.


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