Silent and proud, Durrie’s buildings, people, and animals are fundamentally nostalgic, but never sentimental. Painted during a decade of profound unease, when the relentless approach of the Civil War oppressed the national spirit, the scene is rendered with a structural solidity. Clear, unambiguous shapes and the high tonality of the snowy landscape express a sense of calm persistence, of humanity in harmony with nature in wintry rural isolation. The period’s political instability is nowhere evident in the work.
Again and again in these years, Durrie painted the New England winter, usually near New Haven, Connecticut, and always with the same reassuring sense of balance.1Winter Farmstead was catalogued by Hutson, 227, no. 256 (“location unknown”), and subsequently authenticated by the same scholar (December 1980). The Hudson River painters, Durrie’s contemporaries, cared little for winter scenes, but Durrie cared for little else. As for many New England artists and writers, winter was his favorite season—not a season of hardship but of the pleasures of self-reliance. It was for him “both an escape and an intimate part of his existence,” and he conveys his contentment “with an immediacy usually reserved for greater art.”2Flexner, 255–56.
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.