Though Southern by birth, Louis Rémy Mignot’s legacy rests in his aesthetic and personal alliances with the Hudson River School. Best remembered for breathtaking landscapes of upstate New York and tropical vistas of South America, Mignot studied and worked with the luminaries of his day, including Frederic Edwin Church, Andreas Schelfhout, Eastman Johnson, Thomas Rossiter, and James McNeill Whistler. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Mignot was the son of a successful French Catholic immigrant merchant. Much of his youth was spent in the care of a wealthy doting grandfather, presumably the father of Mignot’s deceased mother. Upon the death of his father, who had disapproved of the young man’s artistic inclinations, Mignot traveled to the Netherlands in 1848 to study at the Academy of Fine Arts at The Hague under Andreas Schelfhout, one of the leading Dutch landscape artists of the time. Largely a studio artist, Schelfhout relied heavily on plein air sketches of hillsides that he later perfected into his famous winter scenes, a technique Mignot adopted during his South American travels.
After nearly six years in Holland, Mignot returned to the United States in 1855, settling in New York, where he deliberately aligned himself with the Hudson River School. While his early reputation was built on snowy landscapes, Mignot quickly gained respect for his depiction of traditional Hudson River School subject matter. His ability to capture the dramatic topography of the Catskills earned the regard of Church, with whom Mignot shared a studio address. In 1857, Church invited Mignot to accompany him on his second expedition to South America. During their four-month trip, Church focused on the Andes, which frequent many of his masterpieces, while Mignot felt a stronger draw to the low-horizon river scenes of Ecuador, perhaps due to the terrain’s resemblance to his boyhood home in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Their sketchbooks replete with drawings, Church and Mignot returned to New York to create finished studio works. As a result, many of Mignot’s hazy, atmospheric paintings from this period do not necessarily depict specific locations, but rather are composites of a variety of views.
Even as his star ascended—including election to the National Academy of Design in 1858, membership in prestigious professional organizations such as the Century Association, and representation in important group exhibitions—Mignot’s Southern affinities in the midst of growing regional tensions prompted him to resume his travels abroad in 1862. He and his wife established a home in London, where Mignot eventually exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. Critical acclaim followed, praising Mignot’s talent as “a mind fired by a wide range of sympathies, and whether it was the superb splendor of the tropical scenery of the Rio Bamba, in South America, the sublime maddening rush of iris-circled water at Niagara, or the fairy-like grace, the exquisite and ethereal loveliness, of new-fallen snow, he was equally happy in rendering the varied aspects of nature.” Though some paintings of this time reflect European artistic and literary influences, he continued to draw on tropical and Hudson River subject matter for his canvases, work that was still popular in American exhibitions and galleries.
Always influenced by his most recent mentors and colleagues, Mignot, whose personal and artistic sensibilities have been described as “chameleon like,” was increasingly drawn to Paris in the late 1860s. Dividing his time between that city and London, he was represented in the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle and at the Paris Salon in 1870. His last trip to Paris was cut short by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. In a desperate attempt to flee the city ahead of incoming German troops, Mignot contracted smallpox and died, at the age of 39, shortly after returning to England.
Though only one extant work testifies to Mignot’s activity in the South—a scene of Mount Vernon—the South Carolinian’s paintings can be found in several Southern institutions including the North Carolina Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and Greenville County Museum of Art, as well as important national collections such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and National Academy of Design.