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Bonaventure: A Historic Cemetery in Art

Jepson Center March 2 – September 23, 2018

Steeped in art and history, Bonaventure Cemetery is one of Savannah’s most scenic locales, attracting visitors since the early 19th century. Drawn from Telfair’s and others’ collections, this exhibition includes paintings, prints, photographs, and sculpture inspired by or connected to the cemetery. First established as a plantation in the 1760s, Bonaventure was visited by artists as early as the 1830s. The former plantation and burial ground later became a public cemetery called Evergreen.

The city purchased the cemetery in 1907, adding the adjacent Greenwich site in 1937. Bonaventure holds many connections to Telfair, including the resting places of museum founder Mary Telfair and first director Carl Brandt. Artists inspired by Bonaventure’s moss-draped avenues of oaks and funerary sculpture include 19th century painters Thomas Addison Richards and Henry Cleenewerck. Photographers likewise discovered the cemetery, which became a popular subject for photographic stereopticon cards.

The cemetery’s celebrated funerary art was created by international and local sculptors, including the German-born John Walz. Bonaventure appears in 20th century works by local painters such as Hattie Saussy and by photographers Edward Weston and Jack Leigh. Leigh’s iconic image of Sylvia Shaw Judson’s bronze sculpture The Bird Girl was commissioned in 1993 for the cover of John Berendt’s bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book fueled Savannah’s tourism and cemented Bonaventure’s reputation as one of the world’s most distinctive and aesthetically appealing cemeteries.

 

Top:
Henry Cleenewerck (Belgian, 1818-1901)
Bonaventure Cemetery, c. 1860
Oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 38 7/8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Washburn in memory of Mrs. James Cary Evans (Cecilia DeWolfe Erskine), 1967.10

Bottom:
Jeff Markowsky
Path of Light, 2017
Oil on panel, 14 x 20 inches (framed)
Loaned by the artist