John Durand

(fl. 1766—1782)

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(active 1765–82).

Painter. Known for portraits, he harbored aspirations to other forms, especially grand manner history painting. Probably of French ancestry, he may have been born in France but almost certainly did not train there. He was first recorded in Virginia in 1765. Although he apparently spent much of his career in that state, he traveled often. During the years immediately following his first appearance in New York in 1766, he numbered among the most actively engaged portraitists there, and in 1767 he advertised a drawing school. He also worked in Connecticut and in Bermuda. After 1775 he is not known to have left Virginia. Despite his acquaintance with the conventions and theoretical underpinnings of fashionable European art, Durand possessed only limited technical skills. Yet he combined boldly designed, strongly outlined, flattened forms into lively compositions heightened by an acute sense of color. His only known group portrait, The Rapalje Children (New-York Historical Society, c. 1768) presents four cheerful, naturally posed figures in an informal arrangement of overlapping shapes. Although the faces show little individuality, clothing is attentively rendered to suggest the family's social position. A teenage boy wears a striped waistcoat with his blue suit, while each younger sibling is attired in a different color. The pattern of these vivid hues, set off by white accouterments, provides a fresh and animated air. Some of Durand's later work shows a more volumetric approach to form, perhaps stimulated by contact with the work of John Singleton Copley.

Subjects: Art.

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