Art in Florida

More than a thousand years ago native peoples and early explorers had their own arts, crafts and tools, but the tradition of Florida art starts with Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, who arrived in St. Augustine in 1564. His illustrations were a testament to a strange new frontier. After the Civil War, an array of intrepid people ventured into the little explored land. Florida wilds then seemed to end at Lake Monroe in the St. John’s River, where riverboat traffic ceased.  The climate, of course, was key in attracting adventurers and carpetbaggers, the infirm in search of healing waters, sportsmen seemingly bent on depleting the abundant life they shot from steamboats, land speculators, ranchers, and farmers. It was as if dreamers and schemers developed the state. Artists arrived too, and they were amazed by the tangles of lush vegetation, beautiful light, and the strangeness of this wild environment. Art prints and hand tinted photographs by the likes of E. G. Barnhill and W.J. Harris advertised a steamy and exotic land; Florida quickly assumed a special place in the American psyche.

Most notable Florida artists were not native Floridians, nor even residents of the state. The allure of the semi-tropical land was compelling, and successful businessmen, including Henry Flagler, Henry Plant and John Ringling, patronized the arts. This occurred at the tail end of the important paintings made by artists of the Hudson River school, which glamorized the land with holy overtones, whose landscapes of the fresh terrain were painted with a kind of reverence. Thomas Moran, William Morris Hunt, Martin Johnson Heade, Frank Shapleigh, William Aiken Walker, George Inness, Hermann Herzog, Winslow Homer, Anthony Thieme, Emile Gruppe, Laura Woodward, and even John Singer Sargent and John James Audubon painted Florida at a time when riverboats and then trains brought wide-eyed people increasingly south into the still uncharted peninsula.

Florida art during the post war boom is largely characterized by the African-American landscape painters who are known as The Highwaymen. The works of Alfred Hair and Harold Newton defines this group of twenty-six painters. Albert Ernest Backus, a Fort Pierce regionalist who is considered the dean of Florida landscape painting, influenced the Highwaymen. The state is home to many of the nation’s most exciting self-taught artists. Purvis Young, Milton Ellis, Duane Locke, Gene Beecher, and Robert Roberg. are among the artists who distinguish the particular branch of contemporary folk art known as Outsider art. Florida has also attracted many talented artists from afar to its unique environment. Lisa Stone Arts promotes established, emerging, and obscure 19th and 20th century Florida art and artists, as well as offering curatorial services to our clients.