Founded in 1985, the Morris Museum of Art was established with a focus to instill knowledge and understanding of Southern art and culture by preserving important works created by Southern artists. The direction and focus of the museum was established in the late 1980s with the purchase of 230 paintings from the collection of the acclaimed Southern art collector, Robert P. Coggins. Since opening to the public on September 26, 1992, the museum continues to educate and inspire visitors with its dynamic collection.
Two of the more important and unique collections within the museum are from the antebellum and Civil War and Reconstruction periods. The antebellum collection contains portraits of prominent and well established residents of the American South (such as the Thomas children, left) during this period of prosperity and optimism. In contrast, the works in the Civil War collection depict the harsh realities of the battle between the federal government and the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, from a distinctly Southern perspective. Suprise Attack Near Harper's Ferry by John Mooney is an example from this period. The role the South played in American history during the Reconstruction period is also highlighted.
Highlights of the museum include Impressionist works by Southern artists. French Impressionism greatly influenced American artists of the early 20th century, and the climate and landscape of the South was perfect for the 'en plein-air' style of painting. The airy, light-filled quality of the South is portrayed in artworks such as Path in a Southern Garden, Charleston Doorway, and Afternoon at the Beach in the Chesapeake Bay. Other highlights include expressionist and abstract works from the early to mid-20th century, in which paintings illustrate the impact of industry in the rural South and the transformation from being predominately agricultural to an industrial region. The collection transitions from the early and mid-20th century to the late 20th century with vivid and bold paintings, black and white photographs, and abstract sculptures documenting the changing identity of the Modern South. Contemporary art is also featured with many self-taught artists including a painting of Elvis on plywood by Howard Finster and works by Minni Evans, Nellie Mae Rowe, Margaret Ramsey, and George Andrews, among others.
Click here to view works from the Morris Museum of Art currently available online.