Louis Remy Mignot
Acclaimed during his all-too-brief life as one of the finest artists of our country, Louis Remy Mignot was many things: a Creole born in Charleston, South Carolina; a Catholic in a Protestant nation; a Southerner in the North during the turbulent times prior to the Civil War; an American artist abroad; and a tragic casualty of the Franco-Prussian War. Nonetheless, he was long forgotten until a 1996 exhibition and exhaustive catalogue resurrected the artist. Arguably he was a competitor to Frederick Church, having traveled with him in 1857 to South America producing breathtaking tropical images. Painting throughout the South and upstate New York, Mignot produced sophisticated landscapes representing all the seasons: blazing reds of autumn and magnificent winterscapes rarely seen in Hudson River School work. Mignot even collaborated with genre artists such as John Ehninger (page 58) painting landscape backgrounds for their figurative pieces. I discovered this 1859 autumn painting at Kennedy Gallery in 1971 long before scholarship rescued Mignot from obscurity. As I recall, it was very modestly framed, and the artist was thought of as not much more than a follower of Jasper Cropsey (page 24), especially his Northern autumn pictures. Obviously the scope of his accomplishments was not appreciated nor the obvious agony of the impending Civil War, which forced him to leave New York in 1862 and move to London. A successful career in Europe followed until, in 1870, during a trip to France, he became embroiled in the Franco- Prussian War. Although the circumstances are shrouded in mystery, it seems he was mistakenly captured and imprisoned during the Siege of Paris. By his eventual release and return to England, he had contracted smallpox and died shortly thereafter. The details of Mignot’s transitory life suggest a search for, or escape from, something. In any case, it ceased in the midst of a European conflict rather than the war that engulfed his own place of birth.