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Scenic Impressions: Southern Interpretations from the Johnson Collection

The radical changes wrought by the rise of the salon system in nineteenth-century Europe provoked an interesting response from painters in the American South. Painterly trends emanating from Barbizon and Giverny emphasized the subtle textures of nature through warm color and broken brush stroke. Artists’ subject matter tended to represent a prosperous middle class at play, with the subtle suggestion that painting was indeed art for art’s sake and not an evocation of the heroic manner. 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 which celebrated the Southern scene as an exotic other, a locale offering refuge from an increasingly mechanized urban environment.

In its presentation of some forty paintings created between 1880 and 1940—including landscapes and genre scenes—Scenic Impressions traces an international aesthetic’s journey to and germination in the American South. A foreword, written by Kevin Sharp, director of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, introduces the topic. Two lead essays, authored by noted art historians Estill Curtis Pennington and Martha R. Severens, discuss the history and import of the Impressionist movement, abroad and domestically. Each scholar explores the use of local color to portray a regionally distinct place and culture—to produce, in the words of the popular and prolific American Impressionist Childe Hassam, “some things that are charming.” The featured works of art are presented in full color plates and delineated in complementary entries written by Pennington and Severens. Also included are detailed artist biographies illustrated by photographs of the artists, extensive documentation, and indices. The book is co-published by the Johnson Collection and the University of South Carolina Press.

Featured artists include Wayman Adams, Colin Campbell Cooper, Elliott Daingerfield, G. Ruger Donoho, James Herring, Alfred Hutty, John Ross Key, Blondelle Malone, Lawrence Mazzanovich, Paul Plaschke, Hattie Saussy, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Anthony Thieme, Helen Turner, and Ellsworth Woodward. A companion exhibition to the volume opens at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, on November 1, 2015 and will remain on view until January 3, 2016, before traveling to the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia (January 16–April 10, 2016).

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