Saturday in the Museum with George Henry

Image: George Henry Durrie, Winter in the Country (c.1858).

As we come to the end of the year, we also approach the end of this year’s theme for our Saturday art posts. This year we have focused on where food comes from as a subject; paintings that look at how we get our meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, grains and fish. But food is seasonal, and the bounty of summer recedes to a less colorful palate.

This week’s painting comes from mid-19th century New England, via the National Gallery. It captures a farm as it scales back its activity for winter. The artist, George Henry Durrie, may not be a familiar name, but his work is some of the most familiar in American imaginations this time of year. The National Gallery of Art bio of Durrie reads like a background on a character in Little Women: “Born in New Haven in 1820, the son of a Connecticut stationer, George Henry Durrie remained in that city virtually his entire life. Married to a choirmaster’s daughter, Sarah Perkins, in 1841, he immersed himself in the quiet pursuits of family and church. While he never achieved the fame of the most renowned nineteenth century American landscape painters, he appears to have had a fulfilling, productive career.”

Even the moment he gained some fame during lifetime was on a small scale:

“By 1845 local newspapers carried advertisements for Durrie’s ‘snow pictures’ and his Sleighing Party was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in that year. Landscapes, which had first appeared as backgrounds in his portraits, became his primary focus. He painted local landmarks such as East Rock and West Rock, as well as composite scenes of rural life. Country inns and barnyards, scenes of human activity, became his most oft-used subjects. While he painted these in all seasons, his depictions of winter were most numerous, growing in frequency between 1854 and 1863. The artist died in New Haven on 17 October 1863.”

It was the depictions of winter that would make his paintings famous, even if not by name. Again the NGA bio explains, “Because his paintings combined extensive genre elements with landscape they had a story-telling content that made them pleasant, accessible images to the average viewer.” The lithographic firm of Currier & Ives realized their potential as comforting, narrative images. The firm “successfully reproduced ten of Durrie’s scenes and these, in turn, became popular calendar illustrations in the twentieth century. As a result, Durrie’s depictions of rural life in the mid-nineteenth century are now among the most familiar images in all of American art.” However, the glowing nature of the reproductions loses some of the artists touch found in the originals, lacking “the keen sensitivity to and understanding of conditions of atmosphere and light that are so pronounced in Durrie’s paintings.”

We have often noted that the serendipitous nature of finding art or stories about that art is one of the more rewarding aspects to having done these art posts. This week’s story is a prime example. We will scale back our art posting next year to a large degree, but if we find a good story or striking image that intersects with the world of food, we will be sure to share it.

In the meantime, and consistent with a picture print from Currier & Ives, we wish you a happy holiday season and much good eating.


Of course if you are looking for dining suggestions in Washington, D.C. that is our true focus! We have 300+ recommended restaurants. You can sort by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format. So if you are gonna be in town, check us out.

And please give us a follow! We are on FB, Insta, and Twitter.  Click on the icons at the top or bottom of this page to stay up to date.