Art Appreciation Essay

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George Durrie was an American painter who lived and worked during the 19th century (George). Durrie was a northerner who supported abolition and professed a concern over rampant industrialization which he believed diminished the natural landscape. Currie was most famous for his paintings of pastoral landscapes and country images which were later reprinted and sold as lithographs for the popular Currier and Ives Company, particularly his winter scenes which became popular on Christmas cards even up to the present moment. Although perhaps not the most recognized American painter, nor the most productive, it can be easily argued that George Durrie made a lasting contribution to the American artistic tradition and to the subsequent understanding that creative people had the ability and the audience to include social commentary into even the most apparently innocuous of their works. This particular painting by Durrie, entitled "Winter in the Country," was created in 1857 and is intended to represent a winter day in the rural community near the painter's New Haven, Connecticut home. In fact, most of Durrie's paintings would depict areas close to his home and to the various natural places he saw during his lifetime, all of which he desired to capture in full color, which would not be possible in any other medium. Durrie's works almost always depicted a country landscape with hills, animals, trees, flowers, and birds. The little bit of human manufacturing that would be present, such as a carriage or a home, would be completely surrounded by the natural world, as is evident in this painting.

Similar landscape artists of the period include those who were part of what has become known as the Hudson River School. Most of the painters in this school of thought became interested in the expansion of the United States into the West and tended to depict landscapes from these frontier locales. They were heavily interested in landscapes from the north, as Durrie was. The school was interested in making pretty pictures of things most people did not get to see. One particular example is the painting "The Oxbow, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm" painted by Thomas Cole in 1836. Like Durrie, the painting emphasizes the importance of nature. Note that in this painting, the landscape is portrayed as an ideal place. There are no human beings in the location in order to preserve the landscape as something that is perfect. It is an unrealistic scene instead of something potentially true. Unlike Durrie, they were less interested in the beauty of their everyday worlds or in trying to include any material which might seem controversial.

It has frequently been argued by art critics and historians, that the works of natural landscape artists like George Durrie bear an unspoken subtext (Hutson). The painting is thus not just about a pretty house or a lovely carriage or what country life might be like. Instead, it is about the increased industrialization of the north which has necessitated the construction of large factories and the reduction of rural landscapes like the ones depicted. An increasing need for manufactured goods would also increase the amount of space needed for companies to produce these items (George). No longer situated merely in large cities like New York, industrialization forced smaller town to become owned by corporations so that they could use natural resources to increase production. For example, lumber companies would tend to build large mills in heavily wooded areas so that it would be easier and more cost efficient to acquire necessary materials. Not only would the idyllic landscape be marred by the inclusion of such a structure, but much of the forest and natural components of the local would be sacrificed in the same of financial growth and progress.

There would also be a secondary political discourse in the painting where the northern society is portrayed in terms of the ideal and the most beautiful in contrast to the southern society which would have purity marred by the inequality of slavery and slave labor (Hutson). Although northern industry may mar the natural landscape, it is not as harmful as the south wherein very few people would have the chance to see such a scene as this because they were suffering under the yoke of servitude. Durrie and many members of the literary and artistic community of the American north in the period before the Civil War were interested in abolition and made the cause at the very least something that was sub-textual in their various writings, paintings, and other works of art.

The first thing that the viewer notices when looking at Durrie's "Winter in the Country," is of course the landscape aspect of the piece. The ground and the roofs of the buildings are covered in snow. This is of course logical given that it is winter. Based upon the amount of snow, and the lack of ornament, it is probably middle to late January. Behind the purple mountains in the background, the sun seems like it is preparing to set. However, upon second glance this proves to be incorrect. There is direct light coming at the buildings from the perspective of the viewer, which is proven by the fact that the shadows fall behind the buildings rather than in front of them as would be the case if the sun were setting behind the mountains. Thus the sun must be in the sky, but the day is overcast which would explain why so little light is showing in the background. The sky appears purple not because night is falling but because it is a cloudy, winter day.

In the front right of the scene is a large tree which has managed to keep a few leaves despite the snow and more than likely a large amount of wind. It is a gnarly tree, leaning slightly to the left. Branches stick out of the body in the tree like curly arms, each one sprouting their own twigs and sticks. Around the base of the tree are some grasses or flowers, long since turned brown, which proceed in a line from the tree to a small body of water over which some person has constructed a bridge to let carriages and other such vehicles and persons to pass. There are other trees in the scene; several behind the buildings and one in front, standing behind a fence. This tree is much shorter than the others and it looks as though someone has taken an ax to its higher pieces, leaving it looking sad and pathetic in comparison to the other, larger trees growing all around it.

"Winter in the Country" depicts three man-made structures, a yellow house, a small red building which appears to be some form of barn, and an emptier brown building which would seem to be a stable for the horses. This is a logical conclusion because the scene shows at least two horses reside on this land, one pulling a sleigh with a man and woman inside it and another guiding two cows while a man walks beside them. Behind them, the cows are dragging large quantities of wood. Either this wood is for the home they are passing or for one of the many industrial complexes which would be being erected in the countryside. The yellow building has a rounded sign hanging from it. It is possible that this sign bears the name of the owners but it is more likely to inform people that this is an inn of some kind. There are at least six persons residing there at the moment, all whom appear to be adults. It would then make sense that the home was being used for some sort of enterprise.

At the very center of the scene are two dogs, one white with spots…

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