George Henry Durrie (1820–1863)
Connecticut Painter of Rural Genre Scenes
By Amy Spencer
George Durrie is best known for his winter landscapes, which were popularized when the firm Currier & Ives published them as prints.
VII. Suggested Resources
George Henry Durrie was a nineteenth century artist who developed a unique expression for the depiction of winter farmyards and landscapes. Durrie produced around 300 paintings over the course of his career. The earliest of these works were portraits however, by the early 1850s, Durrie had begun to focus increasingly on painting rural genre scenes and winter landscapes of New England. These winter scenes are considered his finest achievements.
Most of what is known about Durrie’s painting career has been learnt through his account books (1839-1852) and from a diary he kept from January 1, 1845 to July 1, 1846. The account books document Durrie’s commissions, sales, and exhibitions, while Durrie’s brief diary offers insight into his personal affairs and interests.
Durrie was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1820. His father was an emigrant from England and his mother was a descendant of Governor William Bradford, a Mayflower pilgrim who became a leader of the Separatist settlers in Plymouth Colony.
In 1839, Durrie and his older brother John began taking painting lessons from Nathaniel Jocelyn, a renowned New Haven portraitist and Honorary Member of the National Academy of Design. Durrie studied with Jocelyn for two years. During these formative years Durrie’s account books indicate he was already taking commissions to paint portraits.
Much of Durrie’s early career was spent as an itinerant painter, traveling over the countryside in search of portrait commissions in smaller towns and rural areas. In 1839, Durrie traveled to Hartford and Bethany, Connecticut, and then from 1840 to 1841, he worked in Naugatuck and Meriden, Connecticut, and in Freehold and Keyport, New Jersey.
Throughout his life Durrie had a strong interest in the church and its music. He played violin and bass viol, and often sung in church choirs. His diary reveals it was not unusual for Durrie to attend church three or four times each Sunday. While painting in Bethany, Durrie attended rehearsals for the Episcopal Choir where he met Sarah A. Perkins. Durrie and Perkin married on September 14th, 1841. The couple had a son, George, in 1842.
After getting married, Durrie and his wife lived briefly in Monmouth County, New Jersey, before settling in New Haven. Under the patronage of Judge James S. Lawrence, Durrie painted many portraits throughout the year of 1842. His account book shows at this time his portraits were between five to fifteen dollars each. To supplement his income, Durrie did other painting jobs such as altering portraits, varnishing, and even painting decorative motifs on window shutters.
Durrie first showed his works in public exhibitions in 1843. His exhibited a portrait at the National Academy of Design in New York City, and two portraits at the New Haven Horticultural Society. The following year Durrie exhibited five more works at the State House in New Haven. One of these works was his first recorded winter scene. Durrie sent another winter landscape, The Sleighing Party, to the National Academy in 1845.
In January 1845, Durrie left his wife and child to travel to Claverack and Hudson in New York. Later in the year he moved to Petersburg, Virginia where he remained for six months painting portraits. Durrie’s second son, Benjamin, was born in 1847. His only daughter, Mary, was born in 1852.
By the 1850s, Durrie’s local reputation had started to grow and he was established enough to give up his itinerant lifestyle, setting up a permanent studio at 5 Marble Block in New Haven. In 1853, Durrie had a house built on Temple Street where he lived with his family for the rest of his life. During this time Durrie began to specialize more in rural landscapes, as demonstrated by a public sale of his works in 1854. An advertisement in the New Haven Daily Register reads: “Having engaged for a few months past in painting a number of choice Winter Scenes, [G. H. Durrie] would offer them at public sale to the admirers of the fine arts… It is needless to add that no collection of pictures is complete without one or more Winter Scenes.”1 Durrie exhibited two more winter scenes at the National Academy in 1857.
Durrie’s landscapes are characterized by pale yet bright colors and by the repeated use of certain motifs, such as an isolated farmhouse, a road running diagonally through the composition, and a hill in the distance. They are appreciated for their freshness and originality, and are quite distinct from the predominately summer scenes produced by Durrie’s contemporaries in the Hudson River School.
In 1861 the printmaking firm Currier & Ives further popularized Durrie’s work through publishing two lithographs of his winter landscapes, New England Winter Scene (1858) and the Farmyard in Winter (untraced). Two more of Durrie’s works were published in 1863 and a further six after his death. The last print to be published was Home to Thanksgiving (unknown) in 1867. It depicts a young man, having returned home by sled, being greeted by his family on the front porch of their home. It has become one of the most Durrie’s most iconic images.
Durrie died at his home on October 15th, 1863.
Durrie had a modest reputation during his lifetime, however after his death the Currier and Ives prints ensured Durrie’s works were kept in the pubic eye. Since the 1930s, Durrie has been increasingly recognized for his paintings following posthumous recognition in books, articles, and numerous one-man exhibitions. Most of his paintings remain in private collections however important examples can be viewed in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the New York Historical Society, and the Fine Arts Museum in Boston.
1820 Born in New Haven, Connecticut
1839 Studies for two years with Nathaniel Jocelyn, a well-established portrait painter in New Haven
Travels to Bethany and Hartford for portrait commissions
1840 Travels around Connecticut, painting portraits in Hartford, Naugatuck, Hanover, and Meriden
Spends time in Freehold, New Jersey where his portraits are very popular
1841 Marries Sarah A. Perkins in Bethany
Paints in Philadelphia and Freehold
1842 Son, George Boice Durrie, is born
Moves back to New Haven permanently
1843 Painting record book shows first entry of a landscape painting
Exhibits a portrait at the National Academy of Design
Exhibits two portraits at the New Haven Horticultural Society
1845 Paints portraits in Claverick and Hudson, New York
Paints portraits in Humphreyville, Connecticut and Petersburg, Virginia
Exhibits two winter scenes at New Haven Horticultural Society and is awarded second prize in the landscape category
1847 Second son, Benjamin Woodhouse Durrie, is born
1852 Birth of daughter, Mary Clarissa Durrie
1853 Has two paintings, East Rock and West Rock, made into lithographs by Sarony and Company (they are not published during Durrie’s lifetime and after his death his family sells the prints in pairs)
Builds a house on Temple Street, New Haven where he lives for the rest of his life
1857 Briefly opens a studio-business outlet at 442 Broadway in New York City
1863 Currier and Ives publish two lithographs of Durrie’s paintings, The Farmer’s Home, Winter and Winter Morning, Feeding the Chickens
Dies at his home on October 15th
1864 Currier and Ives publish four more of Durrie’s paintings as lithographs; The Old Homestead, Winter; Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning; Winter in the Country, The Old Grist Mill; and Winter in the Country, Getting Ice
1866 Currier and Ives publish one lithograph after a Durrie painting, Autumn in New England, Cider Making
1867 Currier and Ives publish last Durrie painting as a lithograph, Home to Thanksgiving
Austin Art Center at Trinity College, CT
Berkshire Museum, MA
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Chicago Historical Society, IL
Currier Gallery of Art, NH
Gilcrease Museum, OK
National Portrait Gallery, DC
New Britain Museum of American Art, CT
New Haven Colony Historical Society, CT
New York Historical Society, NY
New York State Historical Association, NY
Mattatuck Historical Society, CT
Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, MA
Monmouth County Historical Association, NJ
Museum of Fine Arts, MA
Shelburne Museum, VT
Wadsworth Atheneum, CT
The White House, DC
Yale University Art Gallery, CT
1843 National Academy of Design, New York, NY
New Haven Horticultural Society, New Haven, CT
1844 State House, New Haven, CT
1845 National Academy of Design, New York, NY
New Haven Horticultural Society, New Haven, CT
1852 New Haven Horticultural Society, New Haven, CT
1854 New Haven Horticultural Society, New Haven, CT
1858 National Academy of Design, New York, NY
1859 National Academy of Design, New York, NY
1862 National Academy of Design, New York, NY
1863 National Academy of Design, New York, NY
1947 George Henry Durie: Conneticut Painter of American Life, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT
1951 Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH
1959 New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, NJ
1966 New Haven Colony Historical Society, New Haven, CT
1968 Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT
1977 George Henry Durrie, 1820-1863: American Winter Landscapist, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
Advertisement quoted in George Henry Durrie, 1820-1863: Connecticut painter of American life, Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1947.
VII. Suggested Resources
Hudson, Martha Young, George Henry Durrie, 1820-1863: American Winter Landscapist, Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1977.
George Henry Durrie, 1820-1863: Connecticut painter of American life, Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1947.