Romantic Spirits: Nineteenth Century Paintings of the South from the Johnson Collection

RomanticSpirits_cover600.jpgThe late Clement Eaton once observed that the nineteenth century romantic spirit, which “subtly permeated the society of the Old South,” was borne out most vividly in the region’s “arts and social manners.” Having had its genesis in Europe, romanticism found its way into the cultural output of the young republic, both North and South. The same ideals that imbued the canvases of the Hudson River School also colored the art of painters who found their inspiration and audience in the American South.

In Romantic Spirits, a lavishly illustrated study of thirty-two artists represented in the collection, noted art historian Estill Curtis Pennington delineates the historical, social, and cultural forces that profoundly influenced their aesthetic sensibilities. Author of the award-winning books Lessons in Likeness and Kentucky: The Master Painters, Pennington examines the core concepts of the romantic movement as it unfolded in the American South: the heroic individual, an idealized chivalric code of personal honor, the sublime quality of nature, and the inevitability of change in an imperfect world. A companion exhibition to the volume opened at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia, on March 7, 2013 and is presently on a three-year tour to leading museums across the South.

Spanning the years 1810-1896, Romantic Spirits includes insightful illustrated biographies on the featured artists, as well as extensive bibliographic resources. This inaugural publication underscores the Johnson Collection’s commitment to advance interest in the dynamic role that the art of the South plays in the larger context of American art and to contribute to the canon of art historical literature.

Distributed by the University of South Carolina Press, Romantic Spirits is available for purchase from major retailers, as well as online from the Hub City Bookshop, Spartanburg’s independent downtown book store. Gee Creative of Charleston, South Carolina, created the volume’s graphic design.

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