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Capturing the Immediate: Impressionism in the South: Paintings from the Permanent Collection

July 13 - December 29

Delphine Julia Bradt, Spring Day, circa 1925. Oil on canvas. Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.

This expansive exhibition includes figurative, still-life, and landscape paintings by many well-known and some previously undiscovered impressionist painters who worked in the South. Driven by the passionate interest of museum founders Sissie and Billy Morris, the museum has made impressionist painting an important focus of its collection since the start. More than three galleries are devoted to this groundbreaking exhibition. 

Although impressionism was looked upon as a radical style of painting in late-nineteenth century Europe, hundreds of American painters—including many who later worked in the South—eagerly adopted the unblended brushwork and vibrant palette of French painters Camille Pissarro, Pierre- Auguste Renoir, and, especially, Claude Monet. In 1883, when Monet moved to Giverny, he proved himself a magnet to the American painters who studied in France, absorbing the ideas and techniques of French realists like Jean-François Millet, impressionists like Monet and his colleagues, and more conservative academic painters. By the turn of the twentieth century, many American painters had elevated landscape and still-life painting to a level traditionally enjoyed only by historical, religious, and mythological subject matter. The unprecedented emphasis on subjects that were part of the artist’s direct experience came naturally to painters in the South, including many—Gari Melchers, Eliot Clark, Paul Sawyier, Virginia Randall McLaws, Louis Betts, William Posey Silva—whose paintings are highlighted in this exhibition. The success of the first major American exhibition of impressionist paintings, in 1886, cemented its popularity among artists, critics, and collectors. But as is often the case, artists were well ahead of the public in their embrace of this new style. 

This exhibition demonstrates that artists in the South shared key concerns with their French counterparts, most notably a grounding in direct sensory and lived experience, as well as “the painting of modern life” that meant subjects could be observed in the artist’s own environment. An increasing number of southern painters who discovered impressionism found the combination of sensuous technique and native subject matter perfectly suited to southern sensibilities. 

Unlike in Europe, where national schools emerged, impressionism in America had regional associations around the country, and its geographical fractures have led some scholars to view it as merely local and therefore unworthy of serious study. Scholars have also tended to ignore American impressionist paintings created after 1915. Like the many paintings on view, Delphine Julia Bradt’s Spring Day (circa 1925), William Posey Silva’s Raiment of Springtime (1931), and Ernest Lawson’s The Waterfall, Shore’s Mill, Tennessee (1938) demonstrate that impressionism occupied and sustained a place of great importance in keeping with the region’s agrarian roots, retaining its vitality well into the twentieth century. 


July 13
December 29
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Morris Museum of Art
1 Tenth Street
Augusta, GA 30901 United States
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