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 Caroline Petigru (C.C.) Carson  (1820 - 1885)



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Lived/Active: New York/South Carolina / Italy      Known for: portrait, landscape and miniature painting

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Ad Code: 4
Caroline Petigru Carson
10 x14

Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for her South Carolina portraits, landscapes and miniatures, Caroline Petigru Carson was the daughter of legislator and state attorney general James Louis Petigru and Jane Amelia Postell of Charleston, South Carolina. The Petigrus of Charleston were descendents of James Pettigrew (d. 1784), who had immigrated to Pennsylvania from Scotland, but eventually settled in the Abbeville District of South Carolina. In this region a branch of the Pettigrew family flourished. This branch changed its name around 1809, in an effort to claim Huguenot origins, and became prominent in Charleston society under the name Petigru.

Kinship provided a safety net for the Petigru women to cope with their situations in southern society. James helped his sisters who remained with him in Abbeville to turn their farm into a family estate  into a large rice plantation with nearly 125 slaves.  Generous hospitality among relatives provided respites from troubled marriages and social opportunities for adolescent daughters.

But it was two of James's own daughters who took their search for autonomy furthest. Sue King published fiction and constructed for herself a persona somewhat at odds with that of a proper Charleston matron. Caroline Petigru, named Jane Carolina, married a lawyer named William Augustus Carson (1800-1856), with whom she had a son, James Petigru Carson (1845-1923), and as a widow, lived in the North during the Civil War, pursued an artistic career, and also lived abroad. In New York City, she became highly respected and was one of the first women elected by distinguished artists to the American Society of Painters in Water Color, founded in 1866.

Her family's prominence declined from the National Panic of 1837, and by the late 1850s, the family fortune was badly depleted. Working against them was James Petigru's open opposition to the Civil War, having stated when South Carolina seceded from the Union that "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum. " (Lukhardt) 

The family home burned in December 1861, and James Pedigru died in 1863. His daughter, Jane Caroline, then living in New York City, returned to Charleston to paint and sell artwork to raise enough money to have a monument built in her father's honor. It took her two years to raise the funds, and friends helped with the inscribed epitaph of nearly forty lines ending with the words: "This stone is erected by his daughter, Jane Caroline Carson."

Following the Civil War, the older generation of Petigru's died; most of the middle generation lost the resources necessary to sustain an elite status; and less than half of the younger generation of women found husbands. Young people left the low country in search of better opportunities. Education, which had been the key to upward mobility, then became their insurance against poverty by providing training for a teaching career.

In post-war Charleston, Caroline, along with Katherine Middleton Huger, was one of a few local Charleston artists represented at a well-attended exhibition in 1883, when many paintings were shown on loan from New York City at a show organized by the Carolina Art Association. She was known to have signed her portraits as Caroline Carson, or "CC".

Caroline Carson Petigru ended her life as an artist in exile in Italy, having fled Charleston at the start of the Civil War. She first had gone to New York City and ultimately to Rome, where she lived among other expatriates. She died in 1885. (Some sources indicate she died in Rome in 1892, but her grave marker in the Magnolia Cemetery of Charleston has her dates as 1820 to 1885, and death place as Charleston, SC).

Alice L. Luckhardt, Yahoo! Contributor Network, Yahoo Voices, South Carolina's Respected Opposition 150 Years Ago: A Union Man at the Heart of Secession,

James Petigru, Wikipedia,

"Caroline Petigru Carson", Find A, Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC

American Watercolor Society website,

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is text from a review of the University of South Carolina Press of the book The Roman Years of a South Carolina Artist: Caroline Carson's Letters Home, 1872-1892 by William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease.

Caroline Petigru Carson (1820–1892), the elder daughter of Charleston intellectual James Louis Petigru and sister of the novelist Susan Petigru King, seemed destined from birth for life as a southern plantation mistress. Yet, like her sister, Carson challenged the conventions of nineteenth-century Charleston and defied traditional expectations by living apart from her husband and later as a very merry widow. Like her father unwilling to support secession, Carson, a staunch Unionist, left her native South Carolina at the onset of the Civil War. She settled first in New York and then, a decade later, in Rome among the prestigious social circles for which her background and bearing fitted her. In both locales she created for herself the life of an artist and southern expatriate.

From Italy, Carson wrote hundreds of discursive letters to her younger son in America. Gathered in this collection, these narratives offer intimate insights into the emotional life of a mature woman, the accomplishments of an artist determined both to perfect her craft and sell her work, and the intellectual and social pursuits of a well-educated, vivacious American living abroad.

With painterly eye and incisive pen, Carson vividly portrays both the life she observed and the life she led in Rome. Her letters reverberate with street scenes, riots and demonstrations, secular celebrations of a newly united Italy and traditional religious pageantry, an intense friendship with a Roman duke, and the scandalous lives of her fellow Americans. Interspersed are snatches of conversations with artists, writers, and famous visitors to the Eternal City, many of whom she lured to her weekly salon. Letters written in the summer from Italian, Swiss, and German resorts depict not only the contrasting styles of wealthy American tourists and vacationing European aristocrats but the coastal and mountain scenery that is also pictured in the Carson paintings that are included in this volume.

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