German-born Carl Brandt, the first director of Telfair Academy, was responsible for realizing the vision of the museum’s founder, Mary Telfair (1791-1875). Brandt’s first task was visiting the great salon exhibitions in Europe to view the latest art. Culturally enriching for the public, these salons were also profitable for the artists represented.
The first painting Brandt purchased was from the 1883 Autumn Exhibition in Liverpool, England. The work, Relics of the Brave, was by Arthur Hacker, a young painter emerging in the art world. Brandt was so zealous in his acquiring for the new museum that an addition had to be built to accommodate the Telfair’s new collections of painting, works on paper, and plaster casts. The 1883-86 museum addition included the Rotunda and Sculpture Galleries as well as a studio. New York architect Detlef Lienau (1818-1887) undertook the design of the new wing and was already well-known in Savannah as the architect behind the Georgia Historical Society’s Hodgson Hall. In designing the Rotunda, Lienau worked closely with Brandt, who sought to create an academy that would compare with the great museums of Europe.
Brandt, an artist himself, produced several paintings for the Telfair collection, including the 1896 portrait of Mary Telfair and the four murals that decorate the cardinal points of the Rotunda Gallery. Among them are the ancient Greeks Apelles, Praxiteles, and Iktinus, as well as the 15 th/16th-century German Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) who represented painting, sculpture, architecture, and the graphic arts, respectively. Printmaking is, by comparison, a more modern technique, and Durer is credited with perfecting the engraving and woodcut methods. Executed between 1888 and 1892, the murals were painted with oil on unprimed canvas and measure about 108 x 56 inches. Brandt intended for the murals to imitate the texture and general impression of Gobelin tapestries, or French textiles produced by the Gobelin family in Paris.
Brandt purchased the core of the Telfair’s permanent collection, and many of the works Brandt collected are currently hung in the Rotunda. Many other permanent collection works were purchased by Gari Melchers (1860-1932), the Telfair’s Fine Arts Advisor from 1906-1916.