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Artist Biography

 George Henry Durrie was born in 1820 in New Haven, Connecticut. His father owned a stationary and printing store, which on occasion was converted into a gallery so that George and his older brother John could exhibit their paintings. Since there were few opportunities for them to study art locally, George and his brother were largely self taught, and worked as itinerant portraitists for a period of time in the 1840s. When he grew tired of painting portraits, George branched out into landscape painting, influenced by the work of Thomas Cole, whose work he saw at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford. Durrie’s early landscapes follow Cole’s compositional formula of placing trees to the left and right of the canvas, water in the foreground, and mountains in the distance. While he was aware of the work of Frederic Church, whose 1849 scene, Haying Near New Haven, was widely reproduced by the American Art-Union, Durrie’s work is much more spontaneous, even whimsical, as opposed to the extreme realism advocated by Church.

In 1845, Durrie exhibited his first work, a winter scene, at the National Academy of Design in New York. Durrie was the first American artist to truly specialize in painting winter subjects. While he gained little notoriety during his lifetime, an auction of his work in 1862 helped secure immortality for his unique vision. The lithographic firm of Currier & Ives purchased ten paintings, which were then used as the basis for folio-sized prints. Not only did this help to disperse Durrie’s work during the nineteenth century, it was popularized again in the 1930s, when the Travelers Insurance Company used the prints to illustrate its annual calendars. While other artists of his generation were slow to be rediscovered after World War II, Durrie’s work remained in the public eye, and prints of his paintings hung in countless American households. This steady familiarity in part explains why so many of his paintings are found in prominent collections around the country. Some of the best examples of his work can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The most extensive collection of his work is in the Shelburne Museum, Vermont.