DURAND, Asher B. (1796-1886)
New York: Burton and Valentine, 1825. Engraving. Trimmed just outside or to the platemark. Sheet size: 17 x 12 3/8 inches.
Unrecorded proof of a seminal American engraving.
Asher Durand was hailed as the most famous engraver in America" and "the father of American landscape painting. His bold clean style was an immediate success, and he consequently produced some of the most important engravings in American print history. "Musidora was Durand's first major effort in engraving from an original design. The theme was inspired by 'The Seasons,' a poem by the Scottish poet James Thomson. In the 1825 engraving, the young Musidora moves cautiously to the bank of the woodland stream, and illustrates Thomson's lines, which are inscribed on the print ... John Durand called this work a product of his father's 'inner consciousness'..." (Hudson River Museum). The original drawing for the work is located at the New York Public Library. This example is a very fine, dark impression in an unrecorded proof state (i.e. before the date added to the end of Durand's imprint, prior to the printer's imprint below the quote from Thomson's Seasons, and with the title lightly engraved). In Thompson's pastoral poem, the section in which Musidora appears describes her bathing in a secluded stream. While bathing, she is unaware that a male admirer, Damon, secretly watches her from a hidden vantage point. Durand's image of Musidora implicates viewers in Damon's act of voyeurism, compelling them to assume the role of the male gaze. This perspective confronts us with our own participation as voyeurs, akin to Damon's intrusive gaze. In this context, "Musidora" exemplifies the multifaceted nature of the female nude in art, prompting viewers to reflect on their own complicity in the act of looking. Just as Durand's portrayal challenges viewers to embody Damon's intrusive gaze, it underscores the broader dialogue that surrounds the depiction of the female form in art. Beyond being a mere visual representation, this print calls upon us to engage with the centuries-old discourse surrounding the female nude and serves as a thought-provoking entry point into the complex world of art and representation.
The Grolier Club, Catalogue of the Engraved Work of Asher B. Durand (New York: 1895), 236; Stauffer 683; Hudson River Museum, Asher B. Durand: An Engraver's and a Farmer's Art (Yonkers: 1983) 27.