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Savannah’s waterways, picturesque landscapes, and bustling city life have provided inspiration to visual artists for decades. Since Telfair Museums first opened to the public in 1886, it has nurtured many of these artists by offering art instruction and showcasing temporary exhibitions of regional and local artists. Yet until the late 20th century, local and regional art was not well represented in the museum’s permanent collection.

Beginning in the 1970s, Telfair recognized its special role as Savannah’s art museum and began adding paintings of Savannah and by Savannah artists to its permanent collection, making purchases and soliciting gifts of art made in Savannah in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s.

The works in this exhibition showcase a variety of artistic interpretations of Savannah’s streets, citizens, and landscapes from the early 20th century. Some of the artists studied at the most revered art schools in New York, while others were entirely self-taught. Their chosen formats range from intimate etchings to boldly colored oil paintings. Some romanticize the city’s people and built environment, while others rely on direct observation and realistic detail. Yet all of them convey the fascination that Savannah’s unique atmosphere, architecture, and environment has long held for locals and visitors alike.

Select a work to read the gallery text.

 

on Jefferson Street, 1/10/08, 4:43 PM, 16C, 3384x3344 (416+1170), 75%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/20 s, R90.0, G27.4, B37.7

 

Savannah Street Corner, oil on canvas by Alexander Brook

 

John W. Taylor (American, 1897-1983), Savannah River Landscape, c. 1940, pencil on paper, gift of Andrée Ruellan, 1996.11

Despite bearing the title Savannah River Landscape, this drawing depicts the aqueduct where the Savannah Ogeechee canal enters downtown Savannah, and is believed to be a study for Taylor’s painting Canal at Yamacraw of 1941 (location unknown).

study for under the cotton exchange, 1/11/08, 11:02 AM, 16C, 2534×3197 (202+392), 50%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/25 s, R84.1, G21.6, B31.3

Christopher A. D. Murphy (American, 1902-1973), Study for Under the Cotton Exchange, c. 1925, graphite on paper, gift of Don and Mary Whisonant, 2008.2

 

on Jefferson Street, 1/10/08, 4:43 PM, 16C, 3384×3344 (416+1170), 75%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/20 s, R90.0, G27.4, B37.7

Christopher A. D. Murphy (American, 1902-1973), Humble Homes, c. 1925, etching on paper, gift of Bess Center in memory of Dr. A. H. Center, 1999.20.2

In addition to being a talented painter, Savannah native Christopher A. D. Murphy was a highly skilled draughtsman and printmaker. In 1947, Telfair held a solo exhibition of his works in conjunction with the publication of the book Savannah, featuring text by Walter Hartridge alongside etchings and drawings by Murphy. The introduction to the book proclaimed, “Mr. Murphy has won wide recognition through his etchings… For two decades he has found inspiration in the highways and lanes of a town little touched by change. His work, executed with vigor and understanding, has received widespread recognition and acclaim.”

Elizabeth Quayle O’Neill Verner (American, 1883-1979), River Slip Savannah, c. 1926, etching on paper, gift of Mrs. John Andrew Hamilton, 1976.3.4

 

Elizabeth Quayle O’Neill Verner (American, 1883-1979), River Street, Savannah, c. 1926, etching on paper, gift of Mrs. John Andrew Hamilton, 1976.3.2

 

Elizabeth Quayle O’Neill Verner (American, 1883-1979), Christ Church in Savannah, n.d., etching on paper, gift of Mrs. John Andrew Hamilton, 1976.3.6

 

Elizabeth Quayle O’Neill Verner (American, 1883-1979), Harbor Light, Savannah, c. 1926, etching on paper, gift of Mrs. John Andrew Hamilton, 1976.3.5

A Charleston, South Carolina artist associated with that city’s cultural revival, Verner is best known for paintings, pastel drawings, and etchings depicting architecture and low country life. These images are from a group of several Verner created in the late 1920s in Savannah, not long after establishing her Charleston-based printmaking studio. An advocate for historic preservation in her home city, Verner also supported preservation efforts in Savannah.

Walton Blodgett (American, 1908-1963), Live Oaks, Savannah, c. 1937, pencil on paper, museum purchase, 1999.5.2

A native of Ohio, Blodgett studied under ashcan school artist George Luks in New York during the 1920s and worked for the United States government’s Works Progress Administration in Key West in 1936. He was active as a watercolor painter, illustrator, and teacher, and his work was included in museum exhibitions around the country. His illustrations appeared in publications including Art News and Scribner’s Magazine. Other examples of his work can be found in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

West Fraser (American, b. 1955), Savannah River, c. 1985, watercolor on paper, gift of Michael and Elizabeth Terry, 2007.12

A noted practitioner of traditional oil painting, Savannah-born West Fraser’s earlier work also included meticulous, large-scale watercolors. In this intensely realist view of the modern port at work, a large container ship is headed upriver to the port just beyond the city waterfront, guided by tugs. A number of factors facilitated this transformation in the scale of the Savannah’s port, including the creation of the Georgia Ports Authority in 1945 and the widening and deepening of the harbor over time to accommodate larger vessels. Container ships came into use on the river in the 1960s. The 1953 Talmadge bridge, still present in this view, was replaced by a higher suspension bridge in 1991.

Copy work for the Telfair Museum of Arts and Sciences

Eliot O’Hara (American, 1890-1969), Savannah Dock Fire, c. 1930s, watercolor on paper, gift of Eliot O’Hara Picture Trust, care of Harmon-Meek Gallery, 2005.18

A prominent watercolorist, O’Hara’s painting was likely painted on the spot on River Street where he observed smoke clouds from a fire in progress at one of the river wharves. Large fires have broken out at the port at many times in the city’s history from tremendous blaze in the 1880s which swept across barrels of resin at the naval stores yard to a recent incident in which a warehouse of tires caught fire. This painting may depict the billowing smoke from a blaze that consumed a large shed held nitre, used in making fertilizer, at the Central Of Georgia Railroad docks in March of 1935. O’Hara, who taught winter art classes at Telfair in 1934 and 1935, won numerous awards for his work, and published eight books on watercolor technique over the course of a long career.

Anna Colquitt Hunter (American, 1892-1985), From Seaboard Docks, c. 1953, oil on canvas, gift of Mrs. Harriet Huston, Dr. and Mrs. Peter Scardino, Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence Lee, Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm Bell, Jr., Mr. J. Daniel Zarem and Friends of Anna Hunter, 1981.19

Anna Hunter led a long, remarkable life as a journalist, artist and preservationist in her home city of Savannah. A widowed mother, Hunter began writing for the Savannah Morning News in the 1930s and served her country overseas during World War II. Hunter later returned to Savannah, writing a society column and art reviews. After taking a children’s art class, she began making art of her own and became part of the artists’ community on the riverfront. Called the “Grandma Moses of the South”, Hunter painted naïve but charming scenes of Savannah, including this view from the Seaboard Air Line Railroad docks on Hutchinson Island. In addition to art, Hunter’s legacy includes the Historic Savannah Foundation, which she organized with a group of Savannah women in 1955. She kept a riverfront studio until her death in 1985.

Augusta Oelschig (American, 1918-2000), Untitled (Front Yard Baseball), c. 1953, oil on canvas, gift of Mary Ellen and John P. Imlay, Jr., 2016.10

Born in Savannah to owners of a retail florist shop and nursery, Augusta Oelschig was artistically inclined from an early age. After earning her BFA from the University of Georgia in 1939, Oelschig returned to Savannah and began earning acclaim for works depicting contemporary African American life in her hometown. From the late 1940s through the 1960s Oelschig grew increasingly passionate about social issues and, in addition to painting local scenes, began to explore sensitive social and political topics including racial injustice and nuclear warfare.

Savannah Street Corner, oil on canvas by Alexander BrookAlexander Brook (American, 1898-1980), Savannah Street Corner, c. 1938-48, oil on canvas, gift of the artist, 1972.22.7

An important player in the New York art world of the 1920s and 30s, Alexander Brook served as assistant director at the Whitney Studio Club (a precursor to the Whitney Museum) and exhibited his own work widely. Between 1938 and 1948, Savannah served as both a source of inspiration for Brook and an intermittent home, and his studio on River Street became a focal point for artist friends from New York and local artists alike. Brook favored subjects from Savannah’s less affluent neighborhoods, saying, “I am more concerned, both sympathetically and aesthetically with the simpler and sadder things about me.”  The building shown in Savannah Street Corner may be the Union Branch Baptist Church, which stood in the neighborhood known as Frogtown on the city’s west side. Though the painting is signed, the unfinished figures on the left and the barely concealed revisions to the church steeples indicate that the work is unfinished.

Andrée Ruellan (American, 1905-2006), Savannah, c. 1942, oil on canvas, museum purchase, 1998.8

This painting typifies the straightforward, naturalistic presentation of contemporary life of the “American Scene” style of painting popular during the 1930s and 40s. Andrée Ruellan first visited Savannah in 1941; on later trips, she worked with New York artist Alexander Brook in his Savannah studio. Described as a child prodigy, she was invited to exhibit drawings with Robert Henri and George Bellows when she was only nine. At age 15, she earned a scholarship to the Art Students League. In this painting the viewer can easily read the Dixie Paper Co. sign on the top of a building beside the Barnard Street ramp leading down to the Savannah River. Typical of Ruellan’s work from the 1940s, this work depicts the ordinary, daily activities of the city’s active river district.

Antioch Docking, 1/16/08, 12:28 PM, 16C, 2368×2880 (247+680), 50%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/8 s, R86.3, G19.9, B33.3

Christopher A. D. Murphy (American, 1902-1973), Antioch Docking, c. 1925, oil on canvas, bequest of the James McKenna Estate, 2007.16.2

 

untitled view of savannah river 20-351, 1/8/08, 3:15 PM, 16C, 4048×4945 (209+533), 75%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/20 s, R86.9, G24.4, B34.7

Christopher A. D. Murphy (American, 1902-1973), Untitled, c. 1942, pastel on paper, bequest of the James McKenna Estate, 2007.16.3

Antioch Docking (top) shows the workings of the port of Savannah in the 1920s, but also suggests how the port was changing. The massive hull of the steamship represents the technology of the present, but the outdated technology of the past is visible behind the warehouses on the left in the shape of the masts and rigging of a sailing ship.

The work hanging below was created during World War II, when the Savannah River was a key location of activity on the homefront. Security was vital given the presence of German U-Boats off the Atlantic coast, and the Savannah waterfront became a restricted area from 1942 until the close of the war. This wartime image was drawn from the vantage point of a River Street balcony. A British vessel flying the Royal Navy White Ensign flag on the stern is shown on the left moving upriver. To the right a U.S. military ship, perhaps a Coast Guard vessel, is docked. In patriotic gesture, the artist has included a flag flying from one the flagpoles that dotted balcony windows along the riverfront. Civilians are shown on River Street, indicating that this undated work may have been created just prior to the restriction of waterfront activities.

Both of these paintings are by Christopher A. D. Murphy, who was one of Savannah’s most accomplished and beloved artists. He enrolled at the Art Students League in New York in 1921, where he soon earned a Tiffany Foundation fellowship and exhibited in a number of prominent shows before the stock market crash of 1929 compelled him to return home to Savannah.  Throughout his career, he delighted in portraying all facets of life in his native city, and his skillful depictions of homes, neighborhoods, and landmarks that no longer exist are invaluable documents of the Savannah’s history.

blue painting, 5/12/14, 4:24 PM, 16C, 5242×5814 (7+477), 88%, 1.8 darker hil, 1/8 s, R112.9, G44.9, B59.7

Mark Sheridan (American, 1884-1962), River Nocturne (On the River), c. 1941, oil on canvas, museum purchase, 1941.1

This serene, nocturnal view toward the west end of River Street belies the tumultous political upheavals taking place in the world at the time. Born in Atlanta, Sheridan studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology and at the Pennsylvania Academy before eventually settling in Savannah. Here, he worked as interior designer and architect while also exhibiting his paintings with the Savannah Art Club and the Association of Georgia Artists. This work was purchased by Telfair from the Thirteenth Annual Association of Georgia Artists exhibition.

Augusta Oelschig (American, 1918-2000), Old City Market, c. early 1950s, oil on panel, museum purchase with funds provided by the Telfair Academy Guild, 1999.22

Old City Market, by Savannah native Augusta Oelschig, depicts the City Market building that stood in Savannah’s Ellis Square from 1872 until its demolition in 1953. Although a number of concerned citizens fought to preserve this beloved structure, they were unable to prevent its destruction. Their dismay over the loss of this landmark spurred the creation of the Historic Savannah Foundation, which still works today to preserve threatened historic structures. Oelschig depicts the market teeming with activity: shoppers of all ages and walks of life come and go, pedestrians and animals make their way through the crowd, and busy vendors ready their produce for sale.

John W. Taylor (American, 1897-1983), River Landscape, c. 1941, oil on canvas, museum purchase with funds from Arts Ashore, 1996.10

Although he spent his childhood in eastern Texas, John W. Taylor began his artistic career in 1916 in the advertising department of the Los Angeles Times. He moved to New York City in 1923, where he painted scene backdrops for movies and eventually found his way to classes with John Sloan and Boardman Robinson at the Art Students League. Taylor was the husband of artist Andrée Ruellan. The couple made several trips to Savannah and Charleston, producing a number of canvases inspired by these journeys.

Copy work for the Telfair Museum of Arts and Sciences

Emil Eugene Holzhauer (American, born Germany, 1887-1986), Untitled (Ogeechee Canal), c. 1944, watercolor on paper, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jasper T. Hogan, Jr. in memory of his great-great-grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Alexander Robert Norton, 2005.14

This painting depicts a train crossing the Central of Georgia Railroad bridges over the Savannah Ogeechee Canal in 1944. This canal was initially completed in 1831 for a company headed by Alexander Telfair (Mary Telfair’s older brother). Its purpose was to link the Ogeechee and Savannah Rivers to facilitate the moving of goods. By the late 19th century the canal had become obsolete. Portions of the canal’s sixteen miles survive today, including the section in Savannah near the river shown here and a larger stretch, now a park and museum, near the Ogeechee River.

A German émigré, Holzhauer studied in New York with American artist Robert Henri. Holzhauer moved to Georgia in 1942, teaching at Wesleyan College in Macon until 1953. During this time, Holzhauer was a visiting instructor at the Telfair Academy and made numerous Savannah paintings.