Southern Hospitality: Gilbert Gaul (1855-1919) and Alfred Hutty (1877-1954) in Tennessee and South Carolina

Two artists represented by Hawthorne Fine Art were celebrated for their impressionistic depictions of both northern and southern scenes.  These artists, Gilbert Gaul and Alfred Hutty, spent years training and working in New York, but were also inspired by the locations they encountered in their second homes down south. Two of HFA’s recent acquisitions—Gaul’s Cottage in the Woods and Hutty’s Sunny Day, East Bay Street, Charleston—speak to the importance of travel and mobility for artists in search of new subject matter.

Gaul was born in New Jersey and studied at the National Academy of Design in New York, but inherited his uncle’s farm in Van Buren County, Tennessee, in 1881. This farm became a frequent destination for Gaul, who created historic depictions of the Civil War that sympathetically rendered both northern and southern soldiers. However, Gaul was also inclined to paint picturesque agrarian landscapes with figures amid lush vegetation, such as Cottage in the Woods. Gaul’s characteristic loose, exuberant brushstrokes create a stunning vibrancy of color and light. The alternating gold and green hues lead the viewer’s eye through the composition, past the two figures framed by the towering trees, toward the small cottage in the background—the subject of this painting. The gentle subject matter suggests the pleasure Gaul must have experienced in these periodic escapes to an atmosphere so different from New York City, and the affinity the artist must have felt with his southern property and the countryside of Tennessee.

Gilbert Gaul, Cottage in the Woods

Alfred Hutty began his painting career in Woodstock, NY, where he developed a traditional impressionistic painting style while training with tonalist landscape painter Birge Harrison (1854-1929). Although he rejected emerging modernist trends, Hutty experimented with many media, including etching, lithography, drypoint, murals, and sculpture. While making his first of many extended trips to Charleston, South Carolina, in February 1920, Hutty discovered rich subject matter including plantations, gardens, old churches, and historic homes. Hutty’s delicate pencil drawings and etchings of the city streets became his most celebrated images. Considered an artist-tourist, Hutty’s images of Charleston reveal an important interaction and relationship with the place. Some of his work is considered contradictory, presenting a nostalgic but also critical view of southern culture and the dilapidated historic architecture he encountered.[1]

Alfred Hutty, Sunny Day, East Bay Street, Charleston

Sunny Day, East Bay Street, Charleston is typical of Hutty’s street scenes in the historic parts of Charleston. In typical impressionistic manner, Hutty successfully depicts the play of light on the colorful facades of Charleston’s historic homes, and the effect of shadow that falls across the sidewalk and street. While Hutty captures a glimpse of Charleston’s residents going about their daily tasks, the main focus of the painting is the picturesque representation of the grand residences, many of which at this time were in desperate need of renovation. The yellow building in the foreground at right is the Grant-Missroon house, constructed in 1789, while the white building with red roof at left is the George Sommers House from c.1755. These buildings are typical of eighteenth-century single home residences in Charleston.

Grant-Missroon House
George Sommers House

Further indicating Hutty’s fascination with historic Charleston is the artist’s own home and studio, located in the c.1770 James Vanderhorst House at 46 Tradd Street. Hutty renovated this property in 1927, demolishing a store located next to the main house, and building a new entry and garden. The original kitchen, which was a separate building from the main house, served as Hutty’s studio and had “one of the city’s quaintest” fireplaces.[2]

James Vanderhorst House, Alfred Hutty’s home and studio

Gaul and Hutty both maintained careers in New York and the south and were fascinated by the history of the places they encountered near their “second homes.” Gaul represented his family’s land with tenderness; as a place to reflect on ones own experience and the past events and people that defined the location. Hutty also celebrated the memory of historic Charleston and the nostalgia that one feels for southern living of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While many of Hutty’s images sparkle with southern light and charm, the artist’s tourist eye allows him to infuse other images with subtle criticism, like rundown buildings or immoral behavior happening on street corners.[3] The work of these artists captured a mix of home and travel, present and memory, which helped to diversify the genre of picturesque landscape and streetscape painting in the twentieth century and exposed the New York art world to the richness of other places.

[1] The most significant publication on Alfred Heber Hutty is Sara C. Arnold and Stephen G. Hoffins, eds., The Life and Art of Alfred Hutty: Woodstock to Charleston (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2012).

[2] From the News and Courier (1935), quoted in Jonathan H. Poston, The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997), 144-5. This book contains descriptions of hundreds of important historic buildings in Charleston, including the two mentioned above that appear in Hutty’s Sunny Day.

[3] Alexis L. Boylan, “The Permanent Tourist: Alfred Hutty and Modernism,” in Arnold and Hoffins, 37-8, 41. While Hutty did maintain a home and studio in Charleston for a number of years, Boylan argues that he also remained a tourist and a more distant spectator.


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