ART: Closely Looking at “Kindred Spirits” by Asher Brown Durand

The painting shows Hudson River School artist, Thomas Cole chatting with naturalist and poet William Cullen Bryant.


Closely Looking 

at “Kindred Spirits” 

by Asher Brown Durand 

Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886) painted “Kindred Spirits” in 1849. As stated  in the wall plaque beside the painting:

“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 overlooking a vast valley. He chats 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.

Despite the almost scientific rendering of moss-covered trees and rocks, the landscape pictured does not depict a specific location. It is a combination of key sites Cole had painted in the Catskill Mountains. In addition, Cole’s presence in the scene is another clue that this is an imagined landscape as if it existed in a heavenly or spiritual realm. For many, including Cole, landscapes provided spaces in which to commune with God and the divine. 

The blasted tree in the foreground (as opposed to a cut tree) symbolized the sublime power of nature and celebrated America’s most valuable asset – the wilderness. This tree is also an emblem of Cole and his truncated life (he was only 47 years old when he died of pneumonia).

The imaginary scene Durand created to depict America’s natural beauty.
The treetops above the men. Notice each leaf is painted individually.


The trees on the left of the painting.


The trees on the left of the painting, continued.


The naturally split tree trunk in the foreground of the painting.


Birds fly past the cliff the men are facing. The strata of the rocks remind us of the age of this pristine landscape.


A sheer rock wall, and the split tree.


A sheer rock wall, the split tree, the waterfalls carving into the rock and the dislodged boulders in the brook show the powerful natural forces of nature.


The waterfall and the babbling rocky brook.


Now view the entire scene again. Beautiful unspoiled America.

(Source: Photos taken with permission at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)



Curator Mindy Besaw guides us through the painting, Kindred Spirits.