Kindred Spirits was commissioned by the merchant-collector Jonathan Sturges as a gift for William Cullen Bryant in gratitude for the nature poet's moving eulogy to Thomas Cole, who had died suddenly in early 1848. Durand marshaled his skills as draftsman, genre painter, portraitist, and landscape painter to create a remarkable image. He memorialized Cole, who had been his own mentor, forever standing in a deep Catskill gorge, sketch portfolio in one hand and his recorder in the other, in company with their mutual friend Bryant.
The botanical precision of the mountain forest and foreground trees marks the new direction toward realism in Durand's work. The gorge and the torrent embody geological process as well as sublime grandeur. The two figures might as easily be discussing their mutual fascination with the science of geology as meditating on the Romantic sonnet by John Keats for which the painting is named.