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Durrie and The New England Farm
The scenes of childhood have always had a nostalgic appeal whether celebrated in song or shown on canvas. During the nineteenth century, prosperous settlers of the Middle West were prone to view the eastern country scene through a rosy mist of memory. Paintings and lithographs of the period usually depict a farm scene with rolling hills in the background and a friendly little house, a brook, a dog, and various signs of rural life in the foreground.
Among the artists who portrayed the country scene, George H. Durrie painted unusually realistic pictures of the farm as home and center of happy family life. So warm and human was his treatment of his subject that his canvases had great appeal and lithographs produced from them sold widely. Currier & Ives brought out ten. One is an autumn scene of cidermaking and nine are winter scenes. The most famous is the rare and valuable "Home to Thanksgiving". Four other Durrie paintings were reproduced as prints by other American lithographers.
George H. Durrie was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1820. His father, John Durrie was a book publisher and his mother, Clarissa Clark, was a descendant of William Bradford of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He spent his boyhood in New Haven, opened a studio there in 1841 and the same year married Susan Perkins. He began his career as a portrait painter and lived for a while in Freehold, New Jersey, then briefly in Petersburg, Virginia. But the New England scene soon drew him back to New Haven. There he spent the rest of his life and turned from portrait painting to the rural scenes which found such favor during his lifetime and are appreciated so keenly today.
His life in New Haven was apparently as placid and happy as the scenes which he painted. He prospered and built a large house on Temple Street which included a big room for use as a studio. He found plenty of subjects for his canvases in the countryside around New Haven, notably in Cheshire, the town just north of New Haven, where farm buildings and general scenes have changed but little.
Durrie painted what he had been familiar with all his life. The result is at the same time realistic and romantic. The farm buildings, animals, and people are all there but as types instead of actual portraits. Consequently, a transplanted New Englander who had started life on a farm could see in one of Durrie's paintings the reflection of his own boyhood in the mellow light of memory.
"Home to Thanksgiving" was painted in 1861, only two years before Durrie's death. Currier & Ives published the large-folio print from it in 1867, two years after the close of the Civil War when such subjects as home and family reunions appealed strongly to the public. Lithographs of this and of other good paintings then sold for a dollar and a half to three dollars. Today this particular print is valued at a price that would astonish those purveyors of moderately priced works of art to the American people.The large-folio prints measure about eighteen by twenty-seven inches, and to be of prime value now should be in good condition, clear, unstained, and with margins uncut.
All of the Currier & Ives prints of winter scenes reproduced from Durrie paintings are valuable and in demand. Among those of special interest, besides "Home to Thanksgiving," are two companion prints "Winter in the Country -The Old Grist Mill" and "Winter in the Country-Getting Ice," this last possibly the scarcest of all the winter scenes, and "New England Winter Scene", which, though not the rarest, is one of the most pleasing. Painted in 1860 and published in 1861 by Currier & Ives, it shows a Connecticut farmhouse with barn and other outbuildings in the background. The farm animals and fowls are shown in natural poses. There are various household and farm items scattered about, showing that not even in that leisurely time did everything get put away in its proper place.
Such realistic pictures of happy family life in the country, done with almost photographic attention to detail, probably accounts for the renewed appreciation of those Durrie paintings that were never reproduced as lithographs. These paintings now bring ten times the price at which they could have been bought only a few years ago.