Louis Rémy Mignot

Louis Rémy Mignot

Birth
Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina, USA
Death 22 Sep 1870 (aged 39)
Brighton, Brighton and Hove Unitary Authority, East Sussex, England
Burial Brighton, Brighton and Hove Unitary Authority, East Sussex, England
Plot Sec. R52, No. 22.
Memorial ID 66572678 · View Source
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Louis Rémy Mignot was an American artist and the only Southern-born member of the Hudson River School of landscape painters.

Mignot was the son of Rémy and Elisabeth Mignot of Charleston, S.C. He was likely baptized in the Church of St. Mary of the Annunciation (R.C.) in Charleston, though no record has survived. Both parents were French. Rémy Mignot (1801-1848) was born in Granville, Normandy and arrived in Charleston in the wake of the political and economic upheavals following the Bourbon Restoration. The family of Elisabeth Mignot is uncertain. Rémy established a prosperous confectionery and coffee house on fashionable King Street, catering to the Low Country elite. Through his business and family, he maintained strong ties to Europe. At the time of his premature death from dropsy at age forty-seven, Rémy Mignot had acquired considerable property, including a dozen enslaved African-Americans. Elisabeth Mignot died by 1834, the year Rémy married Théonie Marie Louise Alexandrine (de la) Rivière (1819-1875), daughter of another French émigré family. Young Louis was reportedly sent to live in the household of his (maternal?) grandparents. The boy received a good education and by adolescence decided upon a career as an artist. According to one early biographical profile, Rémy actively discouraged his son's artistic ambitions, and it was only at Rémy's death in 1848 that the seventeen-year-old Louis Mignot felt free to pursue his career.

Probably in the fall 1848 Mignot sailed to the Netherlands where he studied at The Hague with Andreas Schelfhout, the most prominent Dutch landscape painter of his generation and, not coincidentally, a relative by marriage of Adolph John Rutjes, a family friend who would soon marry Louis's stepmother, Théonie. Under Schelfhout's tutelage, Mignot became especially adept at icy winter scenes ("Winter Scene, Holland," 1853, ex-Masco Collection). While still at The Hague Mignot met and befriended the American painter Eastman Johnson with whom he collaborated on at least one picture ("Doorway of a Castle in Winter," ca. 1852, private collection). (Collaborative projects appealed to Mignot: he would later provide the landscape backdrop for figurative compositions by Julius Gollmann, John Ehninger, and Thomas Rossiter.)

While still in Europe Mignot submitted paintings to the American Art-Union in New York ("Winter Scene, Holland," ca. 1850, location unknown). When Mignot finally returned to the United States after five years abroad, he did not return to Charleston, but settled in New York, the emerging center of the American art world. Among the artist community in the city, Mignot stood out for his rigorous European academic training. In the summer of 1857 he joined the celebrated landscape painter Frederic E. Church on Church's second expedition to Ecuador. The sketches he made in the coastal rain forests and Andean highlands inspired some of his finest landscapes, including "Landscape in Ecuador" (1859, North Carolina Museum of Art) and "Lagoon of the Guayaquil, Ecuador" (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). Though a southerner, the artist never painted in the South, excepting a visit to sketch George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. On that occasion, Mignot collaborated with Thomas Rossiter in a large historical composition, "Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784" (1859, Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Mignot was elected to New York's National Academy of Design as an associate in 1858, and as a full academician in 1859. He apparently had a genius for friendship and moved comfortably among the artistic and intellectual elite of New York. Among his close friends was the diarist George Templeton Strong. His marriage on January 11, 1860 to Zairah Cordelia Harris of Baltimore was a newsworthy event. Fellow landscape painter John F. Kensett stood as best man. Zairah Harris (1831-1880), known as Zaidee, was the daughter of Dr. Chapin Aaron Harris (1806-1860), one of the pioneers of modern dentistry and a notable Baltimore art patron. Louis and Zaidee had one child, Rémy Granville, born in Baltimore, December 27, 1861. (The son would follow his father and become an artist, specializing in portrait sketches, though his career never prospered. He died in Stepney, England in 1927, leaving two children.)

Unfortunately, Louis Mignot's prospects of a brilliant New York career were frustrated by the outbreak of the American Civil War. After a last minute sketching trip to Niagara Falls and the sale of 47 paintings and sketches at auction, the artist left New York on the steamship "Great Eastern" on July 26, 1862, claiming that he was headed to India. However, if that was his goal he soon changed his mind, settling with his family in London where he energetically set about establishing himself in the British art world. He regularly exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy, the British Institution, and other venues in England. He sent back paintings to New York for sale, notably a consignment of 43 paintings and 7 watercolors which were offered at auction by Henry H. Leeds & Miner on May 29-30, 1868.

Mignot became friends with fellow American expatriate James A. McN. Whistler. Mignot painted "Whistlerian" beach scenes along the Channel coast ("Low Tide, Hastings," 1867, location unknown) and made sketching trips to the Alps. Through Whistler he likely made the acquaintance of young artists in Paris, who would soon be known as Impressionists. Mignot continued to paint tropical views, sometimes painting variations on a composition. As one would expect, the artist's expatriate paintings express less and less the sensibility of the Hudson River School and more the influence of British and Continental artists ("Mount Chimborazo", ca. 1866, Greenville County Museum of Art). Mignot was increasingly drawn to Paris and some of his paintings from the late 1860s suggest an awareness of the nascent Impressionist style ("Bal de Nuit," 1867, private collection). In May 1870, two of the artist's landscapes were accepted in the annual Paris Salon--a notable achievement for an American. Mignot had also just finished his masterpiece, an expansive view of "Niagara" (ca.1867-1870, Brooklyn Museum), a painting clearly intended to compete with Frederic Church's great "Niagara" (Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Even so, Mignot's interpretation of Horseshoe Falls from above with its turbulent paint handling and atmospheric color shows him more attuned than Church to the new French painting.

Sadly, Mignot's hopeful success was again cut short, and again by war. This time it was the Franco-Prussian War which began in July 1870. According to one obituary, "Mr. Mignot had been some time in Paris, which...he was forced to quit precipitously, abandoning finished pictures, and nearly executed commissions--in fact, everything he possessed of value. Anxiety, fatigue, and the privation of a refugee, brought on an illness, which proved to be small-pox, and to that disease, aggravated by exposure to the air, this meritorious artist fell victim, at the early age of thirty-nine" ("Art Journal," London, Jan. 1, 1871). He died in a hospital at the seaside city of Brighton, England. The great English art critic John Ruskin reportedly accompanied the body to the widow's home. For all his talent, perseverance, and brilliant connections, Mignot died destitute, his estate valued at less than £20. The artist still lies in an unmarked grave in Brighton.

Epilogue.
Mignot's widow returned to Paris after the fall of the Commune and retrieved her husband's paintings from his studio. In 1876 she organized a benefit exhibition and sale of his pictures in London. It was the artist's last solo exhibition for 120 years. Having left New York just as his career was taking off and dying before he could firmly reestablish himself in either London or Paris, Mignot quickly fell into the obscurity of a footnote. His first and so far only retrospective exhibition was organized in 1996 by the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. The exhibition was accompanied by a monographic book, "The Landscape Paintings of Louis Rémy Mignot: A Southern Painter Abroad," by Katherine E. Manthorne with contributions by John W. Coffey and David Moltke-Hansen (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996). The book includes biographical and interpretive essays as well as an illustrated checklist of 102 paintings and a detailed chronology. It remains the most complete study of this remarkable American artist.

[Biographical sketch by John W. Coffey]


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The grave is unmarked.


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  • Created by: John W. Coffey
  • Added: 6 Mar 2011
  • Find A Grave Memorial 66572678
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Louis Rémy Mignot (3 Feb 1831–22 Sep 1870), Find A Grave Memorial no. 66572678, citing Woodvale Cemetery and Crematorium, Brighton, Brighton and Hove Unitary Authority, East Sussex, England ; Maintained by John W. Coffey (contributor 47365586) .