Kindred Spirits is a memorial to the artist Thomas Cole, who died in 1848. Cole stands with a sketchbook and flute or recorder on an outcropping in the Catskill Mountains. He converses with William Cullen Bryant, a poet whose work often describes the same picturesque scenery featured in paintings by Cole, Durand, and other Hudson River School artists.
Durand's detailed, almost scientific rendering of moss-covered trees and striated granite belies his poetic conception of the work as an elegy. The two blasted trees in the foreground and the trajectory of the composition from the valley's confined darkness to the open blue sky in the distance invite meditation on cycles of nature and human life.
The friendship between Cole, Bryant, Durand, and the merchant Jonathan Sturges, who commissioned the painting, suggests the shared interest in nature among artists, writers, and businessmen in antebellum New York-the "kindred spirits" of the title.