By Dulce Román, Harn Chief Curator & Curator of Modern Art
Painting St. Augustine
The Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida (UF) is presenting a new exhibition, “Painting St. Augustine: Selections from the Samuel H. and Roberta T. Vickers Collection,” at the Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum in St. Augustine, Florida. The exhibition, featuring works by more than 20 artists who captured vibrant landscapes and city views of St. Augustine opened May 13, 2022, and will be on view through May of 2023.
The 36 paintings on display date from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries and cover a broad range of themes from views of coastlines and waterways to depictions of historic landmarks, picturesque streets, and courtyards. Collectively, these paintings comprise a visual record of Florida’s oldest city and its unique topography and climate, as well as its people and their daily lives. The exhibition is drawn from the Florida Art Collection, a landmark gift given to the Harn in 2020 by Samuel H. and Roberta T. Vickers.
As the curator of the exhibition, it was truly exciting to research and comb through the Vickers’ gift of more than 1,200 works to select key paintings that illustrate the area in which they will be presented.
Visitors to St. Augustine in the late 19th century included artists who were inspired by the area’s historic sites and the tropical beauty of the islands and forested wetlands along the coast. Artists such as William Staples Drown, Robert S. German, Frank Henry Shapleigh, and Laura Woodward first visited in the 1880s and gathered at the Ponce de León Hotel, now part of Flagler College. Completed in 1888, this grand hotel built by Henry Morrison Flagler, the American industrialist and founder of the Florida East Coast Railway, included artist studios and exhibition spaces. By the 1890s, St. Augustine had become a winter playground for artists and tourists alike, and paintings such as those on view in the exhibition held a direct appeal to visitors who could purchase them as souvenirs of their travels.
“Painting St. Augustine” also includes works by celebrated artists who were either year-round residents or wintered in St. Augustine in the early to mid-20th century. Examples include Arthur Vidal Diehl, Emmett Fritz, Hildegarde Muller-Uri, Heinrich H. Pfeiffer, and Anthony Thieme. By this period, Florida was experiencing both a real estate and tourism boom due to expanded rail and road networks. Artists came to St. Augustine in larger numbers, opened art galleries, and formed art organizations such as the St. Augustine Arts Club, founded in 1931. They promoted St. Augustine as a vibrant arts community and exhibited their paintings at venues throughout the country. The stirring landscapes and vivid scenes of the city’s distinctive landmarks on view in the exhibition serve as enduring support for artist Anthony Thieme’s declaration that St. Augustine is “the most paintable city in America.”
The Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum is located in the heart of historic downtown St. Augustine at the intersection of King Street and St. George Street overlooking the historic Plaza de la Constitución. For more information on the Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum visit www.staugustine.ufl.edu/visit.html. Admission is free.
The Harn worked with UF Historic St. Augustine to share these works with residents and visitors to the St. Augustine area. Being the recipient of one of the most extensive collections of Florida-themed art provides a huge opportunity and responsibility to share the immense history illustrated by these artists.