In its presentation of nearly 50 paintings created from 1880 to 1940—mainly landscapes and genre scenes—Scenic Impressions: Southern Interpretations from the Johnson Collection traces the journey of Impressionism and related avant-garde styles of painting from their origins in 19th-century France to the American South.
The radical changes wrought by the rise of the salon system in 19th-century Europe provoked an interesting response from painters in the American South. Painterly trends emanating from the French towns of Barbizon and Giverny emphasized the subtle textures of nature through warm color and broken brush strokes. Artists’ subject matter tended to represent a prosperous middle class at play, with the subtle suggestion that painting could indeed be art for art’s sake rather than deriving its subjects from history or mythology. Such enchanting French paintings introduced a visual vocabulary of style, color, and content that was soon successfully adopted by American artists. Many painters in the South took up the stylistics of Tonalism, Impressionism, and naturalism to create equally picturesque works that celebrated the Southern scene as an exotic other, a locale offering refuge from an increasingly mechanized urban environment.
Scenic Impressions reflects the history and importance of the Impressionist movement, abroad and domestically, as artists used local color to portray a regionally distinct place and culture. Featured artists include Colin Campbell Cooper, Elliott Daingerfield, Alfred Hutty, Hattie Saussy, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Anthony Thieme, and Helen Turner, many of whom worked in and around Savannah.
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.