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The American South in Pictures

Seminararbeit 1996 23 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Kultur und Landeskunde



I. Introduction

II. Painting: The American South (1788-1860)
2.1 The Early Republican Period
2.2 From the Jacksonian Era until the Civil War

III. Painting and Writing
3.1 Slave Market in Richmond, Virginia
3.2 Natural Bridge, Virginia

IV. Literature: Thomas Nelson Page
4.1 No Haid Pawn: Content and Structure
4.2 Pictures of the South in No Haid Pawn

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography
5.1 Theory
5.2 Painting
5.3 Literature

I. Introduction

The modern viewer's perception of a historical period, of its people and their way of life, is influenced by the knowledge gathered about it since then - information that might prevent him/her to see this time solely through the eyes of those who experienced it themselves. In the arts, hermeneutics, the method of visualizing a piece of art from within, an attempt to experience the feelings and motivation of an artist when he/she created a painting or a literary work - in contrast to the analysis of art on the basis of its historic and social background -, has (not exclusively) been used since Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) to gain an understanding of such a period and the life people led at that time that goes beyond plain, measurable facts from historical documents or records.1

Life in the American South of the 19th century has been widely represented in pictures from or about the period until the Civil War, after which the region was called "Old South", the adjective describing sentiments connected with the irretrievable past. Picture in this paper does not only refer to paintings or drawings but includes also pictures drawn with words: stories, novels, legends, myths. They portray the artist's individual perception of his/her time or past time, which may be influenced by mood, outside circumstances, temporal or emotional distance, ability etc., and allow the viewer who tries to "experience" the piece of art to get a more personal account of how life in the Old South was, even though the single picture can show only a small section of it, which might not generally hold true or comply with the factual reality.

From the early republican period until the Civil War, portraiture had been the main genre pursued in painting. In the beginning the intention was the creation of a record, a real likeness. When the invention of the photography slowly took over this purpose, painters could turn in greater numbers to other genres and objectives. In literature, writers of the Local Color Movement concentrated on the description of life in the ante-bellum South. Those authors, among them George Washington Cable, Kate Chopin and Thomas Nelson Page, had in most cases experienced the "Old South" only as children or young adults. Their stories were written after the Civil War, after life in the South had changed dramatically. Although their works are said to be glorifying the past and lacking realism, they are still records of the authors' individual experience of the country, its people and their life at that time as it was preserved in the writers' memories.

The purpose of this paper is to show how southern life in the late 18th and first half of the 19th century is manifested in artistic accomplishments of and about that period. Special attention is paid to the methods used by painters and writers in creating their very own pictures of the South. The first section gives an overview of painting at that time; the popular genres, subjects and techniques are discussed to demonstrate the role of painting in the region. Occasionally, records of descriptions of the same object by a writer and by a painter have been preserved. Section II looks at two of those "dual" records and compares the techniques employed by either artist to state their respective intention and their effects on the modern viewer. In section III, Thomas Nelson Page's In Ole Virginia, especially "No Haid Pawn", is analyzed, concentrating on the impression the Old South leaves on the reader who did not personally experience this time, and to the methods Page used to "draw" his picture. It includes references to paintings from the ante-bellum period that deal with the life of blacks in the Old South as this is one of the major subjects of Page's stories.

II. The American South in Painting (1788-1860)

The American "Old South", although as a region2 with regard to culture distinctively different from the northern and western parts of the country, was in itself not a truly homo- geneous area in that respect from which only a single tradition in painting emerged. Thus, when speaking of the painterly art of the South in general, it has to be considered that, despite fairly easy transportation along the great waterways and a great number of itinerant and visiting painters, institutional development, popular taste, living conditions etc. differed in varying degrees between the states or regions of the South, which was not without influence on painterly traditions.

The economy of most of the Southern states was based on agriculture, mainly cotton, which did not encourage the foundation of many larger settlement areas that were necessary to secure a painter's income. Artistic activity between 1788 and 1860 was therefore chiefly concentrated on the state capitals and the few other urban centers. New Orleans, for example, which in the 19th century was the largest and also the most affluent city of the South, very much dominated the cultural landscape of Louisiana, and Charleston was the center of almost all artistic activity in South Carolina. In the latter state, many of the wealthy plantation owners kept town houses in addition to their mansions in the country. They formed communities in the cities that were interested in art and could at the same time afford it. Similar financial conditions encouraged painters to pursue their trade in New Orleans, where the big port with all its activities supported the wealth of its inhabitants. In Alabama and Mississippi, however, the great plantation owners lived almost exclusively on their country estates. There were only few railroads in Alabama, and Mississippi's chief port Biloxi was no match in size or turnover for those of Louisiana or South Carolina. There was not enough money to support resident and itinerant portraitists and hence artistic activity was scarce in these states.

According to William H. Gerdts, the art produced in the South, especially by southern natives, has not yet been thoroughly researched. The contemporary art magazines, most of which were published in New York, often ignored that part of the country except for occasionally presenting the unspoiled southern landscapes as waiting for their beauty being preserved on canvas by the northern artist. The London-born T. Addison Richardson, who lived in New York and had spent some time in the South, published several magazines, e.g. in 1842 Georgia Illustrated, articles in magazines, like in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in May 1853, and in 1857 the travel guide Appleton's Handbook of American Travel. He tried to raise interest in southern subjects and to encourage northern artists, especially landscape painters, to visit the area. Few art magazines concentrated exclusively on art from the South; only little is known about many southern artists from that period and a great number of paintings were destroyed by fires and during the Civil War.

2.1 The Early Republican Period

The American public appears to have had no great interest in the classical (European) heri- tage in painting, i.e. mythology and history. For example, John Vanderlyn's Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos (1812) was, despite its popularity in Europe, not successful in puri- tan America. The nudity of Ariadne might have prevented many Americans from recognizing that the painting was not merely a portrait but that it was "standing for [...] venerable old master traditions, fashionable salon sophistication, licentious male desire and female victimization of an ultimately edifying nature"3 and that its "subject, style and theme coincide in such a way as to be keenly relevant to some of the most pressing issues of the artist's time".4

In the South, portraiture was the genre that almost completely dominated the painterly arena during the early republican period. The artistic aspect of a painting was probably a luxury unaffordable to most people, and art for art's sake did not correspond with the rather practical taste of many Southerners5. Demand for portraits, however, which recorded the realistic likeness and the memory of persons and sometimes also places, e.g. Jones Falls at Baltimore Street Bridge (ca. 1800)6 by Francis Guy, was great enough for many artists (and also artisans) to specialize in that field in urban centers throughout the U.S.

Portraiture included pictures of official persons like national heroes and statesmen as well as of private people. The difference between official and private portraiture was therefore only in the sitters, artists usually worked in both areas. Some of the latter specialized in miniature painting, a tradition that had begun in the 16th century. The roots of painting figures smaller than in nature, however, go back still further, and the term "miniature" is an 18th-century invention. One of the most famous American miniaturists except for direct citations are omitted to avoid excessive footnoting.

working in the South between 1790 and 1810 - the "Golden Age of American Miniature" - was Edward Green Malbone (1777-1807). His two works Miniature of Colonel Thomas Pinckney, Jr. (1802) and Miniature of Mrs. Thomas Pinckney, Jr. (1801)7 demonstrate the role miniatures played at that time. The depicted couple was not married until 1803; the picture of the loved one was most likely carried around during their engagement period. It was a very private art form. Sometimes small miniatures were also worn as jewelry, as the portrait of Mrs. Marquis Calmes (1806)8 by Jacob Frymire (1765/74-1822) shows. By the 1830's miniatures had increased in size from one or two inches to three and more, and their shape was altered from oval to rectangular. In portraits from Charleston, where miniature painting was the most distinctive ante-bellum painting, the entire development of the American miniature can be studied. This genre, largely influenced by French painters, was becoming fashionable in Charleston in the 1790's. Interest had declined, however, by 1840 as in the rest of the country, partly because of the increasing popularity of photography. At that time, photographs were still intended to serve merely as portraits without distinctive artistic ambitions; photography developed into an art form only at the beginning of the 20th century. In many southern states with notable artistic activity, miniature paintings were quite popular, though not in all of them. In Huntsville and Mobile, Alabama's major cities, and in New Orleans these small-sized portraits did not find the reception they enjoyed elsewhere in the South. Artists who worked there could not specialize entirely on miniatures but also painted regular-sized portraits like Louis-Antoine Collas (1775-1856), a French miniaturist who worked in New Orleans between 1822 and 1831.

The major artistic achievement in New Orleans was the establishment of an independent portrait tradition, in part due to a strong French influence and because of its German and Swiss traditions. Louisiana became a state of the US only in 1812. Some of the few pictures that have been painted there before the Louisiana purchase in 1803 are from Don José Salazar de Mendoza - a portraitist of Mexican origin who lived in Louisiana from about 1782 until his death in 1802. He and his daughter usually portrayed members of prominent families at a time when Louisiana was still under Spanish rule. After 1803, many painters from other areas came to New Orleans and worked there as resident or itinerant portraitists. From about 1825 Louisiana, especially New Orleans, was regularly visited by northern portrait painters, e.g. Matthew Harris Jouett (1787-1827), John James Audubon (1785-1851) or John Vanderlyn (1776-1852). Some of those artists, including a number from the northern states of the South like Kentucky, came only for the season between November and June.


1 Pinkerneil (1973), p. 95 f.

2 This section based almost exclusively on material from Poesch (1983) and Gerdts (1990). Individual references to these authors

3 Lubin (1994), p. 18.

4 ibid., p. 1.

5 Lucie-Smith (1994), p. 13.

6 Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore. Copy in Poesh (1983), p. 177.

7 Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Art Gallery, Charleston. Copies in Poesh (1983), p. 161.

8 Chicago Historical Society. Copy in Poesh (1983), p. 160.


ISBN (Buch)
496 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Literatur Malerei Amerikanischer Süden



Titel: The American South in Pictures