Painters and Paintings in the Early American South

By Van Horn, Jennifer | The Journal of Southern History, August 2014 | Go to article overview

Painters and Paintings in the Early American South


Van Horn, Jennifer, The Journal of Southern History


Painters and Paintings in the Early American South. By Carolyn J. Weekley. (New Haven and London; Published by Yale University Press in association with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2013. Pp. [x], 438. $75.00, ISBN 978-0-87935-252-3.)

Carolyn J. Weekley's catalog Painters and Paintings in the Early American South was published in conjunction with the exhibition she curated for the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg, where she is the Juli Grainger Curator. The publication takes a broad scope--southern artwork from 1564 through the American Revolution--and encompasses a wide geographic region, from Maryland to Florida and Biloxi to New Orleans. For exhibition purposes this broad span has been broken in half: the first exhibit, which includes artworks created between approximately 1740 and 1790, and a second exhibit planned for 2015, which will explore artworks from the earliest period of settlement. The twin exhibitions and publication represent the culmination of Weekley's forty-year scholarly career and her distinguished work at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The current exhibition is noteworthy, not only for the number of southern artists represented and the volume of paintings on view, but also for reuniting works drawn from twenty museums and collections. The catalog is equally impressive in its scale and its lavish illustrations. More than three hundred artworks appear, most reproduced in full color and in a large size. Weekley includes well-known paintings along with many obscure works that are rarely, if ever, displayed or published. The illustrations, therefore, constitute one of the work's largest contributions to the field by allowing readers to study paintings that are inaccessible or were previously known only through black-and-white images.

Weekley's catalog is the first publication to attempt to present early southern painting in its totality. As she notes in the introduction, "There is no other volume of this sort" (p. 1). This omission stems from a larger gap in the field of art history. Southern art is still understudied, a victim of the field's bias toward paintings produced in northern, urban areas by American-born artists. Weekley's work rests on a wealth of recent, more focused studies that have begun to resuscitate early southern art. The catalog synthesizes these authors' findings, along with Weekley's own painstaking research on southern artists' production and patrons, to present an exhaustive view of the region's art.

Arranged broadly chronologically, the chapters follow the careers of painters who worked in the South, tracing intersections between artists, tracking their artistic influences, and illuminating the interlocking groups of consumers who sought out their works. …

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