Scenic Impressions: Southern Interpretations from the Johnson Collection showcases many painters who worked in and around Savannah and embraced the central tenets of Impressionism: light-filled natural settings loosely painted in high-key colors with visible brushstrokes; fluidity of form; and an emphasis on atmospheric transience. A “scenic impression” is the evocation of something seen, rather than its literal transcription. In terms of subject matter, it is most frequently a landscape, but it can also extend to a figurative composition set outdoors. The artist’s experience—his or her impression of the scene at hand—is paramount.
Scenic Impressions traces the journey of Impressionism and related avant-garde styles of painting from their origins in nineteenth-century France to the American South, and reflects the history and import of the Impressionist movement as artists used local color to portray a regionally distinct place and culture.
William Chadwick spent the winters of 1924 and 1925 in Savannah, Georgia, teaching classes for the Savannah Art Club at the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences. Church Towers represents the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, an imposing French Gothic structure dating from the late nineteenth century. Bright winter light illuminates the church and its surroundings. The rectangular vernacular structures in the foreground juxtapose the angular elegance of the soaring cathedral.
Harry Hoffman liked to travel, and in 1914 he visited Savannah, Georgia, where he found the winter sunshine mesmerizing. His sun-drenched street scene captures intense light reflecting off the pavement and colorful buildings. He added touches of local culture in the guise of African American street cleaners, vendors, and women carrying baskets of laundry and oranges on their heads.
Eliot Clark practiced a form of American Impressionism known as Tonalism, which emphasized harmonious atmospheres in subdued colors. During the 1920s, the Savannah Art Association invited Clark to teach classes held at the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences. He maintained a studio in an old wharf building. Years later, Clark explained his reaction to his time in Savannah: “The evening light was particularly beautiful. . . . The winter in Savannah was mild and pleasant and what impressed me as a painter was the soft enveloping atmospheric light quite different from the contours and strong shadows of New England. This sylvan light formed the background of the Savannah mood.”
Hattie Saussy was an iconic figure in the Savannah art world who came of age during an era of tremendous growth in the art scene in Savannah. Born just four years after the opening of the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Saussy had a strong artistic talent from a young age. She attended Anderson Street Elementary in Savannah (now SCAD’s Anderson Hall), where her 5th-grade teacher was artist Lila Cabaniss. Saussy moved to New York with her mother to study art when she was a teenager, and later traveled to Europe on her own to tour and to study art. By the 1920s, she had returned to Savannah and would remain there for rest of her life.
In Savannah, Saussy worked on her own painting, served as an art teacher, and immersed herself in the growing Savannah art scene. She loved painting the landscape of the lowcountry as well as venturing to the Georgia mountains to paint the landscape there, and her style of painting blended Impressionism and realism. She exhibited regularly with Savannah Art Club at Telfair Academy, and served as president of Savannah Art Club in 1936. Saussy served on Telfair Museums’ board of trustees from 1933-34.
Scenic Impressions is organized by the Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, SC. The presentation of this exhibition at Telfair Museums is curated by Courtney McNeil, Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions.