A fully illustrated art catalogue that exemplifies Charlestonians' fascination with European culture
Charleston has a long history rich in culture and tradition, full of distinctive character and noble allure. By the eve of the American Revolution the South Carolina Lowcountry was the wealthiest area in British North America. Charleston so epitomized the gentle character of European aristocracy that in 1773 Bostonian Josiah Quincy had cause to exclaim, "In grandeur, splendour of building, decorations …and indeed almost everything, Charleston far surpasses all I ever saw or expected in America."
Long after America severed political ties with England, Charlestonians remained uniquely drawn to European society. In Pursuit of Refinement is the first major study of this subject, exploring Charleston's special fascination with European culture. This fully illustrated catalogue accompanies an important exhibition of more than 140 objects, many of which have never been exhibited, organized by the Gibbes Museum of Art with the cooperation of the Historic Charleston Foundation. The book, like the exhibit, focuses on the portraits, paintings, decorative arts, and other artifacts that document the allure that England and continental Europe held for Charlestonians. Works by Thomas Gainsborough and George Romney and from the European periods of Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley lead the list of important commissions.
In accessible studies written for both scholars and general readers, authors Maurie D. McInnis, Angela D. Mack, J. Thomas Savage, Robert A. Leath, and Susan Ricci Stebbins place the objects in their historical, social, and cultural context in order to confront issues of artistic development and community identity in Charleston. One of the principal essays reveals the role that education and the Grand Tour played in forming cultural identity. Another examines the extraordinary patronage of English portraiture and its influence on local Charleston artists. Others deal with the material spread of refinement as Charlestonians collected pictures to hang on their walls and furniture, silver, ceramics, and other consumer goods to fill their homes. A final essay brings these themes together in an exploration of the life of John Izard Middleton, one of Charleston's most distinguished artists, archaeologists, Grand Tourists, and collectors.
This groundbreaking work demonstrates a unique legacy in early America during a critical period of self-definition. In Pursuit of Refinement delves into the issues surrounding this pinnacle of American patronage and the powerful interaction that existed between Charleston and Europe through the antebellum period.
Maurie D. McInnis is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Virginia. Her most recent publications include an article for American Furniture entitled "Beautiful Specimens, Elegant Patterns: New York Furniture for the Charleston Market, 1810-1840," which she coauthored with Robert Leath.
Angela D. Mack is curator of collections at the Gibbes Museum of Art. She has written and produced numerous exhibition catalogues, including Corrie McCallum: A Life in Art (1994) and Merton Simpson: The Journey of an Artist (1995). She served as consultant for the South Carolina Colonial Dames portrait book, for which she wrote a brief history of portraiture in South Carolina.
J. Thomas Savage, formerly curator and director of the Museums Division of Historic Charleston Foundation, is vice-president and director of the Sotheby's Institute. He is also a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, having been appointed by President Clinton in 1993. His most recent book is entitled The Charleston Interior (1995).
Robert A. Leath is assistant curator of Historic Charleston Foundation. His publications include "Jean Berger's Design Book: Huguenot Tradesmen and the Dissemination of French Baroque Style," "Dutch Trade and Its Influence on Seventeenth-century Chesapeake Furniture," and "Beautiful Specimens, Elegant Patterns: New York Furniture for the Charleston Market, 1810–1840," coauthored with Maurie McInnis.
Susan Ricci Stebbins is a scholar specializing in the Grand Tour and nineteenth-century American art. Her recent publications include contributions to A Book by Anselm Kiefer, coauthored with Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., and The Lure of Italy, American Artists and the Italian Experience, 1760–1914.
"In six rich and complementary essays and one hundred forty-six detailed catalogue entries on works of art or extravagant souvenirs acquired by the Manigaults, the Pinckneys, the Izards, the Middletons, and so many others in the course of their travels, the authors carefully assess the phenomenon of the Charlestonian Grand Tour."—South Carolina Historical Magazine
"In Pursuit of Refinement, with its generous illustrations and enormous quantity of data, will provide a valuable source for future projects that explore the history of Charleston's political, economic, and cultural links with Britain and Europe."—Journal of Southern History
"The catalogue is beautifully illustrated and meticulously researched, containing many items from private collections never before exhibited in public."—Journal of the Early Republic