The antebellum American South did not have any artists of note. This misconception has been perpetuated since the end of the War in 1865, perhaps even earlier. Sully, Trumbull, Stuart, West, and even the Peale family (though originally from Maryland) are all claimed by or hailed from the North. The Hudson River School dominated the American Romantic period, and none of the famous artists from that genre called the South home, though some inconspicuous artists influenced by Cole, Moran, and Bierstadt, did. The most famous portraits of the Southeastern American Indian tribes dripped from the brush of Northerner Charles Bird King.
Yet, there was one American artist famous on both sides of the Atlantic to this day who found inspiration in the South, though most don’t realize it. John James Audubon spent more time in the South than out of it during his productive career. He was born on this day (April 26) in Saint-Dominique (Haiti) on a sugar plantation in 1785 and emigrated to the United States in 1803. He settled in New York first, but after almost dying from yellow fever, eventually kept moving South chasing various business ventures. He lived in Missouri (where he met Daniel Boone), Kentucky, New Orleans, and spent time in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida on hunting expeditions. Audubon’s Birds of America was as much the “Birds of the South” as it was anything else. No one wanted to publish the book in the United States, but the English loved it, including King George IV, and Audubon became an international celebrity.
America claims Audubon, but without his time in the Southern woods, his famous prints of North American birds may never have been made. Even after he returned to America in 1829 from a long absence in England, he spent several months in Florida on a sugar plantation. That was most like his boyhood home. Audubon loved Southern culture, and he and his wife both worked on plantations as private tutors. Audubon and the now famous Audubon Society is but one example of the influence the South still has on contemporary American culture. There are many others. Don’t let Northerners tell you otherwise.