Editor's note: The Greenville County Museum of Art provided source material to Resource Library for the following article. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact directly the Greenville County Museum of Art, 420 College Street, Greenville, SC 29601 or through either this phone number or web address:
The Poetry of Place
March 19 - September 18, 2016
Ranging from traditional Federal-period treatments of the American frontier to modernist expressions of social progressivism, the artworks in the exhibition The Poetry of Place continue to tell the intertwined stories of the Greenville County Museum of Art's region and our country. Organized from the Greenville County Museum of Art permanent collection, this exhibition includes 10 new acquisitions, which are described below. The exhibition is on view at the Museum March 19 through September 18, 2016. (right: George Inness (1825 - 1894), Sunset, 1892, oil on panel, 20 x 16 inches. Collection of Greenville County Museum of Art)
In 1820 when Joshua Shaw headed out of Savannah to begin his four-month long sketching tour of the South, he described the land as "alive with every beast and reptile that can infest a country." Shaw's carefully delineated illustration of his hunt for wild game at the edge of a swamp somewhere between Savannah and Augusta (Scene on the Edge of a Swamp, Georgia, circa 1820) not only confirms his description but also serves as the perfect complement to the five works by Shaw that the Greenville County Museum of Art acquired in 2008, most notably a view of the falls of the Reedy River in the village of Greenville.
Shaw's fascination with the American wilderness was shared by other pioneers of the so-called Hudson River School, including Thomas Cole and Thomas Doughty, and it held sway among many artists whose academic training in the major European art capitals perpetuated Old World influences. For example, the energetic treatment of storm clouds, turbulent waters and windblown forest in William C. A. Frerichs's scene Hunters on the Linville River, 1860, reflects the lessons he learned at The Hague and the Brussels Academy where he studied in the looming shadows of Dutch Old Masters.
But, the thrill of primitive Nature's unformed chaos soon was checked by the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War. In the second half of the nineteenth century artists such as William Louis Sonntag (View in West Virginia, 1860), Jacobus van Starkenborgh (West Virginia Forest, 1850), and Joseph R. Meeker (Heron on the Bayou, ) carefully arranged their views of West Virginia mountains and Louisiana bayous in accordance with a cooler, more stable classicism.
Early in his career George Inness (Sunset, 1892) firmly established himself as an accomplished practitioner of conservative, traditional landscape painting, but after encountering the work of the Barbizon School in Paris in the 1850s, he became a strong exponent of that modern movement. French Barbizon artists, Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists assimilated the reductive and decorative aesthetics of Japan, the wares of which were heavily imported to Europe after 1853. These artists combined their own passions for color and the formal properties of paint with Eastern compositional tendencies toward simplification, patterning, and asymmetrical counterbalance. Inness applied these interests to his late tonal paintings of the 1890s, which were inspired by the surroundings near his residence in Montclair, New Jersey, and his winter home in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
The modernist impulse toward simplified forms and emotionally charged color, intended to reveal Nature's inner truths, was firmly planted in America by Inness, among others. By the 1920s, through a conservative hybrid of international Impressionism, a new generation of artists like Elliott Daingerfield (Lake Sunset, 1920), Rudolph Ingerle (Evening Sky, 1925), and Hattie Saussy (Southern Bayou) was applying a fresh, painterly spontaneity to evocations of unspoiled Southern sites.
Impressionism was seldom the vehicle for social critique,
but Alfred Hutty's (In a Southern City, 1922) observation of an African-American
nanny strolling with a white toddler under the sheltering portico of Charleston's
St. Michael's Episcopal Church is a subtle and poignant symbol of the complexities
of race relations in the Jim Crow-era South. In a similar vein, Gina Knee's
Cubistic Savannah shantytown (Southern Sunday Afternoon, 1947) ignores
the genteel charm of the city in favor of its marginalized stick-figured
black inhabitants. Working in the wake of World Wars in which minority citizens
fought and died for their countrymen's freedom but could not easily participate
in America's political, economic or cultural life afterward, these artists
reframed the twentieth-century landscape as an urban forum within which
societal ills could be highlighted, addressed, and, hopefully, remedied.
No longer merely descriptive or escapist, the landscape aspired to be transformative.
(above: Alfred Hutty (1877 - 1954), In a Southern City, 1922, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches. Collection of Greenville County Museum of Art)
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