“The Bayou School: 19th Century Louisiana Landscapes of Clague, Buck, and Smith”
Landscape painting flowered in America in the nineteenth century as the country began to appreciate its vast and varied natural beauty as an aesthetic asset. The earliest Louisiana landscape paintings date at least back to the 1830s. However, for much of the nineteenth century portraiture was the favored artistic genre, particularly among prominent New Orleanians. In the wake of the Civil War, the New Orleans-based artists Richard Clague, Marshall Smith Jr., and William Buck emerged to form a cohesive landscape tradition, the first of its kind in the region. Together, their intimate landscape paintings reveal not only the critical influence of Clague upon his students but also the climate of post-Reconstruction life in Louisiana.
These landscapes are fascinating not only for what they picture, but also for what they ignore. Clague, Smith, and Buck collectively turned away from the bustling and at-times contentious city they inhabited and focused on the seemingly un-complicated rural life of the post-Civil War Gulf South. In these works, people, both black and white, inhabit the landscape, but do not dominate it. At times optimistic, but more often realistic about the state of their region, the work of these artists reminds us that the landscape in Louisiana is stable, despite continued social and cultural change. Today, the paintings of Clague, Smith, Buck, and the followers of their style are collectively known as the “Bayou School.”
This exhibition of over thirty works is curated by Dr. Rachel Stephens, Assistant Professor of Art History at Nicholls State University. It includes eight oil paintings on loan from the Historic New Orleans Collection and features paintings and sketches from NOMA’s permanent collection.