Louis Rémy Mignot
The son of French Catholics who fled to the United States in order to escape the 1830 French Revolution, Mignot was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. At seventeen, after the passing of his father who had never approved of his career choice, he departed for the Netherlands and trained under famed landscapist Andreas Schelfout. He later returned to the United States and settled in New York, where he joined the competitive circle of the Hudson River School painters. There, Mignot was quickly recognized as a promising figure and became close friends with Eastman Johnson and Frederic Edwin Church, who deeply encouraged him and with whom he shared a taste for travels and expeditions.
Mignot's career took a decisive turn in 1857, when he embarked on a five-month journey to Central and South America with Church. From May to September, the artists explored exotic landscapes, recorded the local flora, met with the inhabitants, and captured tropical subjects with astonishing detail. While Church had already been to the Andes, Mignot was discovering the region for the first time and became so obsessed with certain motifs and images that he continued painting similar scenes until his death in the United Kingdom in 1870. While in Ecuador, the artist chose to explore the interior of the continent by boat; then the most dependable means of transportation. Among all the landscapes that he discovered in Ecuador, the Guayas River became Mignot's most important source of inspiration. Unlike the rest of the continent, which was said to be dry and inhospitable, the region was famous for its lush vegetation, steamy weather and rich fauna, which may have reminded Mignot of his native South Carolina.
Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson
The only daughter of Richard Whatcoat Dodson and Harriet Ball Dodson (a descendant of Philadelphia silversmith William Ball), Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson was born in Philadelphia in 1847. Although her father was known as a sophisticated man, and an engraver himself, Dodson was not encouraged in her artistic endeavors and only exercised her talent at illustrating her bed-time stories. She did not start her formal training five years after her father’s passing in 1872, when she entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and chose to study under Christian Schussele, who also taught Thomas Eakins and Cecilia Beaux. Like many women artists in the late 19th century, she eventually decided to leave the United States, and by 1873 settled in Paris, where she trained under distinguished masters (Évariste Vital Luminais, Jules Joseph Lefebvre and Louis Maurice Boutet de Movel, respectively) and competed against local artists by exhibiting at the Salon.
Dodson’s sojourn in Paris enabled her to distinguish herself from her American fellow artists, by embracing a large variety of styles, including the Italian Renaissance and French Academism at first. Dodson later turned away from the Rococo manner and instead started to adopt a style both reminiscent of the Great Italian masters, especially Michelangelo, but also strongly influenced by the English Pre-Raphaelites, with whom the artist shared a certain affinity for poetic landscapes and love themes. True to her aesthetic choices, Dodson left Paris by 1891 and settled in Brighton, England, where she painted until her last days.
A New Work
With its painterly touch, blurred edges and softened hues, Incense Morn. Gray's Elegy is typical of the late South American pictures which Mignot completed in Britain, about ten years after his first trip to Ecuador. In comparison to Frederic Church's sharply delineated compositions, Mignot's painting tends to be less detailed and more evocative of the artist's melancholic feeling, thus resembling a study of tone and mood. Here, the artist depicts a quiet morning scene along the tropical river. Each bank is marked by an abundant, tangled, vegetation which conveys a sense of wildness to the entire scene. The willowy palm trees, surrounding flowers and verdant bushes seem to grow to infinity, expanding beyond the limits of the composition.
L'Amour Ménétrier, is one of the artist's finest early works. Dated 1877, it follows La Danse, the first painting Dodson ever exhibited, which appeared at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle. Both works exemplify Dodson's affinity for large compositions, as well as her fierce attention to detail. They also reveal her strong desire to make a mark in the art world and stand out amongst her female peers. When the two works were shown at the Second Annual Exhibition of the Philadelphia Society of Artists, Sylvester R. Koehler wrote in a review: "A new name to most visitors will be that of Sarah P.B. Dodson, a Philadelphian of French training, who exhibits two pictures of a vein entirely different from everything else to be seen in the collection. Her Pupils of Love and her frieze, The Dance but more especially the former seem inspired by French art of the last century, in the pale delicacy of colour [sic] as well as in connection. There is perhaps a little overstraining in the drawing, to ensure the expression of motion but the power of invention and the spirited execution are worthy of all recognition."
As Barbara Gallati has pointed out, the complex composition of L'Amour Ménétrier is reminiscent of Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23, National Gallery of London), which further illustrates Dodson's wish to affiliate herself with the Grande Tradition of painting. With its chain of semi-nude bacchantes seemingly entranced by Cupid's melody, the work also carries a charming French rococo flavor, reminiscent of François Boucher's seductive mythological scenes, usually tinted with pink and white harmonies.