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 Louis Remy Mignot  (1831 - 1870)

About: Louis Remy Mignot
 

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Lived/Active: New York/South Carolina      Known for: tropical-seasonal landscape painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Louis Remy Mignot
Facts/Data
Birth
1831 (Charleston, South Carolina)
 
Death
1870 (Brighton, England)

Lived/Active
New York/South Carolina


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Often Known For
tropical-seasonal landscape painting

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Hudson River School Painters
Painted in Latin America
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A landscape painter, Louis Remy Mignot was among the Hudson River School style of painters and did numerous tropical landscapes of Panama and Ecuador as well as scenes of upper New York state and some of the Southern states.  He was short lived, dying at age 39.

Mignot was born in 1831 in Charleston, South Carolina.  His father Remy Mignot was a French Catholic immigrant who owned a confectionary shop in Charleston   His boyhood, during which he demonstrated a precocious artistic talent, seems to have been spent in his grandfather's home, near Charleston.

In 1848 he left for Holland and studied for four years with Andreas Schelfhout at The Hague.  He also traveled through Europe before he returned to the United States to settle in New York, where he received the praise and support of numerous critics, patrons, and fellow artists.

In the summer of 1857, Mignot accompanied painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) on a four-month expedition to Ecuador, a turning point in Mignot's career.  There he found scenery that provided a major subject of his subsequent work.  The two artists journeyed from the coastal rain forests through the Andean highlands and saw impressive ranges of snow-capped volcanoes.  After returning to New York in 1858, Mignot earned much critical praise for his South American landscapes.

Most of his pictures are not a literal transcription of a specific scene, but, instead, are imaginative composites of various views and motifs, derived from his sketches while traveling.

As an artist, Mignot was always somewhat out of step with those around him.  He was a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant homeland, a Southerner transplanted in the North, and an American living abroad.  He also kept himself slightly outside the mainstream of popular taste, and was something of a chameleon who moved easily in and out of various cultures, from his birthplace in South Carolina, to art school in the Netherlands, then to New York City, and later, back to Europe.  He seemed often to redefine himself in an effort to fit in and win the approval of the public, although his talent was well recognized by peers and critics alike.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, with anti-Confederate feeling prevailing in the Northeast, Mignot held a sale of his paintings and on June 26, 1862 departed aboard the Great Eastern for England.  Mignot settled in London, where he remained for the rest of his life, and his successful career continued.  His work was exhibited at the Royal Academy, the 1867 Paris Exposition, and elsewhere.  Trips in 1868 and 1869 to Switzerland resulted in a number of Alpine scenes.

Mignot became a casualty of the Franco-Prussian War in France in 1870.  During a trip to Paris during the siege, he contracted smallpox and died at the age of thirty-nine, shortly after returning to his home in Brighton, England. 

An important exhibition of his collected work, organized by his widow, was held in London and Brighton in 1876.

Sources include:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Katherine E. Manthorne and John W. Coffey, Louis Remy Mignot: A Southern Painter Abroad (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996).  The book accompanied a major retrospectiove exhibition of Mignot's paintings, organized by the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Note from Oscar Struycken:

Being a descendant of Louis Rémy Mignot's half-sister Louise Constance I can give some information about his background.

His father was indeed a confectioner in South Carolina. Beside that he was also the owner of a coffee-house and a plantation.  Louis' father was called Remy Mignot and was born in Granville in Normandy in France on June 6th 1801.  He died August 15th 1848 in Charlestown, SC.

Their religion was Catholic  and not Huguenot, as often recorded.

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
Though Southern by birth, Louis Rémy Mignot’s legacy rests in his aesthetic and personal alliances with the Hudson River School. Best remembered for breathtaking landscapes of upstate New York and tropical vistas of South America, Mignot studied and worked with the luminaries of his day, including Frederic Edwin Church, Andreas Schelfhout, Eastman Johnson, Thomas Rossiter, and James McNeill Whistler. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Mignot was the son of a successful French Catholic immigrant merchant. Much of his youth was spent in the care of a wealthy doting grandfather, presumably the father of Mignot’s deceased mother. Upon the death of his father, who had disapproved of the young man’s artistic inclinations, Mignot traveled to the Netherlands in 1848 to study at the Academy of Fine Arts at The Hague under Andreas Schelfhout, one of the leading Dutch landscape artists of the time. Largely a studio artist, Schelfhout relied heavily on plein air sketches of hillsides that he later perfected into his famous winter scenes, a technique Mignot adopted during his South American travels.

After nearly six years in Holland, Mignot returned to the United States in 1855, settling in New York, where he deliberately aligned himself with the Hudson River School. While his early reputation was built on snowy landscapes, Mignot quickly gained respect for his depiction of traditional Hudson River School subject matter. His ability to capture the dramatic topography of the Catskills earned the regard of Church, with whom Mignot shared a studio address. In 1857, Church invited Mignot to accompany him on his second expedition to South America. During their four-month trip, Church focused on the Andes, which frequent many of his masterpieces, while Mignot felt a stronger draw to the low-horizon river scenes of Ecuador, perhaps due to the terrain’s resemblance to his boyhood home in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Their sketchbooks replete with drawings, Church and Mignot returned to New York to create finished studio works. As a result, many of Mignot’s hazy, atmospheric paintings from this period do not necessarily depict specific locations, but rather are composites of a variety of views.

Even as his star ascended—including election to the National Academy of Design in 1858, membership in prestigious professional organizations such as the Century Association, and representation in important group exhibitions—Mignot’s Southern affinities in the midst of growing regional tensions prompted him to resume his travels abroad in 1862. He and his wife established a home in London, where Mignot eventually exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. Critical acclaim followed, praising Mignot’s talent as “a mind fired by a wide range of sympathies, and whether it was the superb splendor of the tropical scenery of the Rio Bamba, in South America, the sublime maddening rush of iris-circled water at Niagara, or the fairy-like grace, the exquisite and ethereal loveliness, of new-fallen snow, he was equally happy in rendering the varied aspects of nature.” Though some paintings of this time reflect European artistic and literary influences, he continued to draw on tropical and Hudson River subject matter for his canvases, work that was still popular in American exhibitions and galleries.

Always influenced by his most recent mentors and colleagues, Mignot, whose personal and artistic sensibilities have been described as “chameleon like,” was increasingly drawn to Paris in the late 1860s. Dividing his time between that city and London, he was represented in the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle and at the Paris Salon in 1870. His last trip to Paris was cut short by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. In a desperate attempt to flee the city ahead of incoming German troops, Mignot contracted smallpox and died, at the age of 39, shortly after returning to England.

Though only one extant work testifies to Mignot’s activity in the South—a scene of Mount Vernon—the South Carolinian’s paintings can be found in several Southern institutions including the North Carolina Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and Greenville County Museum of Art, as well as important national collections such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and National Academy of Design.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
www.thejohnsoncollection.org

Biography from North Carolina Museum of Art:
Louis Rémy Mignot: A Short Biography

Landscape painter and the only Southern-born member of the Hudson River School, Louis Rémy Mignot was born in Charleston, South Carolina on February 3, 1831.   His father, Rémy Mignot, was a French Catholic immigrant who owned a fashionable confectionary shop.  

At his father’s death in 1848, Mignot sailed to the Netherlands where he studied at The Hague with Andreas Schelfhout, the most prominent Dutch landscape painter of his generation.   Like Schelfhout, Mignot initially specialized in winter scenes for which he was first noticed when he returned to the United States and settled in New York (A Winter View from Newburgh, New York, 1856, Vassar College).  In 1857 he joined Frederic E. Church on Church’s second expedition to Central and South America.  The sketches he made in the tropical rain forests of coastal Ecuador and Andean highlands inspired many of his finest landscapes, including Landscape in Ecuador (1859, North Carolina Museum of Art) and Morning in the Andes, 1863, Detroit Institute of Arts). 

In addition to South American views, Mignot painted classic Hudson River School subjects, such as Sources of the Susquehanna (1857, National Academy of Design) and Sunset on White Mountains, 1861, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco).  Aside from a visit to paint Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Mignot never painted in the South. 

On occasion Mignot collaborated with other artists in large historical compositions, notably the ambitious Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1859), for which Mignot provided the setting for Thomas Rossiter’s figures.  Mignot was elected to the National Academy of Design as an associate in 1858, and as a full academician in 1859.  However, his prospects of a brilliant career were frustrated by the outbreak of the Civil War.  A Southern sympathizer, Mignot and his family sailed for Europe in the summer of 1862, but not before the artist made a last minute sketching trip to Niagara Falls. 

Mignot settled in London and began exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the British Institution.  He painted with Whistler along the Channel coast and made sketching trips to the Alps.  He continued painting tropical views, often repeating compositions.  As one would expect, Mignot’s expatriate paintings express less and less the sensibility of the Hudson River School and increasingly the influence of British and Continental artists. Mignot was increasingly drawn to Paris and a number of his paintings from the late 1860s suggest an acquaintance with the emerging impressionists (Bal de Nuit, Paris (1867, private collection).  In 1870, two of the artist’s landscapes were accepted in the Paris Salon.  Mignot had also just finished his most ambitious landscape, an expansive Niagara (ca.1867-1870, Brooklyn Museum of Art), a painting competitive with Frederic Church’s great picture, but in its light and freer handling more responsive to the new French painting.  Tragically, the artist’s success was again cut short.  In Paris at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Mignot and his family fled the advance of the German armies.  In desperate circumstances, the artist contracted smallpox and died on September 22, 1870, shortly after arriving in Brighton, England.  He was 39 years old. 

In 1876 in London his widow organized an exhibition and sale of Mignot’s paintings and sketches—his last exhibition in 120 years.  Having left New York just at the ascent of his career and having died before he could reestablish himself in Europe, Mignot quickly fell into the obscurity of a footnote.  His first and so far only retrospective exhibition was organized by the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1996.  The accompanying book, The Landscape paintings of Louis Rémy Mignot: A Southern Painter Abroad was written by Katherine E. Manthorne with John W. Coffey (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996).  The book includes biographical and interpretive essays as well as an illustrated checklist of 102 paintings and detailed chronology.  It remains the definitive text on this artist.

John W. Coffey
North Carolina Museum of Art


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