Durand was born in Jefferson Village, now Maplewood, New Jersey to a family of eleven children supported by the father, John Durand, who was a watchmaker and silversmith. Working with his father monogramming watches and crafting silver, young Asher Durand developed engraving skills, which determined the early years of his career. At age 16, he went to Newark, where he apprenticed to Peter Maverick, and five years later, they formed a partnership in New York City from 1817 to 1820 where he earned success as an engraver. This distinction brought him many commissions for banknotes, landscapes and portraits, and also allowed him money enough to pay the rent for his own studio. In 1826, he became one of the founding members of the National Academy of Design. He was also a co-founder of the New York Drawing Association, the New York Sketch Club and the Century Association.
Meanwhile, his good friend and frequent sketching partner, Thomas Cole, was encouraging Durand to give up print-making for painting. In 1837, Cole, then the most famous landscape painter in America, and Durand took a sketching trip to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks, and at that time, Durand became committed to landscape painting, which meant a major change in his career. On this trip and numerous others with Cole that included the Catskill and White Mountains, he did many oil sketches and watercolor studies, which he used later for the panoramic paintings that became his signature work.
In recognition of his increasing reputation, which included writing and teaching as well as painting, he was elected President of the National Academy of Design, serving from 1845 to 1861. In 1866, his painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon. Three years later, he retreated from the attention he was receiving in New York and moved to his childhood home of Jefferson Village in New Jersey. He died there in 1886.
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