Asher B. Durand (American, 1796–1886)
Oil on canvas
60 3/8 x 48 3/8 in. (153.4 x 122.2 cm)
Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914 (15.30.59)
Initially titled "Landscape Composition," The Beeches originated in a plein-air study of beech and basswood trees that Durand made at an undetermined location probably not far from the banks of the Hudson River. Critics of the day distinguished the painting from the art of Durand's mentor, Thomas Cole, for its freedom from the narrative and allegorical freight that informed so many of Cole's pictures. In fact, the conception and vertical format of The Beeches distinctly reflect the suburban pastoral character and proportions of many works by the English master John Constable, whose paintings Durand had admired a few years earlier in London. Nonetheless, the warm, late-day glow of the prospect, suffusing the treetops at either side and highlighting the shepherd and his flock, resonates with the Italianate and French landscape antecedents that had marked most of Cole's production and would continue to affect Durand's work for several more years.