Known for her sensitive portraits, lush Southern landscapes, and colorful still lifes in both oil and watercolor, Savannah artist Hattie Saussy pursued her passion for painting from the time of her youth until near the end of her long life. Her parents both hailed from prominent local families, granting their daughter the financial independence to study in New York and abroad, and to pursue her artistic practice without having to rely on the sale of her work.
Saussy came of age during a time of dramatic activity and growth in the Savannah art community. She was born just a few years after the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (now Telfair Museums), the South’s first public art museum, opened in 1886. In addition to its notable collection of paintings and plaster casts, the museum also offered formal art instruction based on the European academic model. Over the ensuing decades, other opportunities for private lessons began to appear in the city, and classes were added to the curriculum of Savannah’s public schools in 1915 by artist and teacher Lila Cabaniss. Organizations such as the Savannah Art Association, the Southern States Art League, and the Association of Georgia Artists worked in tandem with the Telfair to enhance the city’s cultural vibrancy by organizing exhibitions, providing art education, and hosting visiting artists.
Artistically inclined from a young age, Saussy once described herself as “the little kid on the block who painted paper dolls and made Christmas cards.” She was among the first generation of students to benefit from the developments in Savannah’s artistic climate, both in the public schools and through private studies with Emma Wilkins. After attending Mary Baldwin Seminary in Staunton, Virginia from 1906 to 1907, Saussy moved with her widowed mother to New York, where she would eventually enroll at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (founded by William Merritt Chase in 1896 and now known as the Parsons School of Design), the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League. Her instructors in New York included such luminaries of American art as Eugene Speicher, Frank Vincent DuMond, Eliot O’Hara, and George Bridgman. From 1913 until 1914, she continued her education in Paris under E. A. Taylor.
When her European travels and studies were cut short by the onset of World War I, Saussy returned to the United States and worked in a government office in Washington, D.C. After the war, she spent the 1920–1921 academic year teaching at Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia before returning to Savannah permanently. Resettled in her hometown, Saussy taught art and honed her craft—painting en plein air to create light-filled landscapes. She immersed herself in the local art scene, was instrumental in founding the Association of Georgia Artists, and held leadership positions in influential regional organizations. Despite the childhood loss of sight in one eye and advancing years, Saussy continued to paint outdoors until 1972, when she suffered a broken hip on a painting trip and was afterwards largely confined to her Savannah home.