If you were watching the prices of Clementine Hunter's work last year, you will know that they soared to astronomical heights - particularly for the more colorful and interesting ones such as this - and it couldn't get more classic, as this is the plantation where she worked and painted for most of her life. Black artists have been in the spotlight lately, and while Clementine Hunter has been a big regional artist for a very long time, she's a national figure now and is being added to many museum collections. Institutions and prominent collectors have moved in hard. At any rate, the first thing to ask about any Clementine is: is it authentic. Yes, there are fakes, and paintings by her son that are mistaken for (or presented as) hers. This one has been authenticated by "the" Clementine expert, Tom Whitehead, who has a close association with my source for this painting. Of course it has my own guarantee as well; I have sold many Clementines. You can find fakes at auction houses (many of them outside of the New Orleans area) and other venues that don't ask questions, for a lot less money, but don't be fooled!
Now, about the painting. It's a bright, colorful depiction of Melrose Plantation, where Clementine spent most of her working life, and made most of her paintings. It appears to show gardeners tending to the trees and vegetation, as opposed to the more typical scenes of laborers working the fields and going about their social routines. Some of Clementine's paintings are more eye-catching, bright and colorful than others, and this certainly qualifies as a true standout! You can read biographical information about her below. The painting is 18" x 24", slightly larger with frame.
In good shape for a Clementine! No signs of restoration. Shows the typical bit of light surface dirt and craquelure you see in most of these (she didn't pay too much attention to archival techniques!), but nothing distracting.
Here's some background information from the Melrose Plantation website:
Clementine Hunter (December 4, 1886/1887 – January 1, 1988) was born on Hidden Hill Plantation before later moving up the Cane River to work at Melrose Plantation. It was at Melrose that Hunter discovered paints and brushes left behind by a visiting artist. With these humble tools, Hunter began painting – or as she called it, “marking a picture” - various scenes of plantation life including picking cotton, gathering pecans, washing clothes, ceremonial baptisms and funeral scenes. Her resourceful nature led her to paint on discarded items such as window shades, cardboard boxes, jugs, bottles and gourds. Hunter's unique style of social commentary eventually went on to leave an indelible mark on the art world. She has become one of the most renowned, self-taught artists in the United States and is often referred to as the Black Grandma Moses. She was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum (now the New Orleans Museum of Art) and achieved a significant amount of success during her lifetime, including an invitation to the White House from U.S. President Jimmy Carter (which she declined). Radcliffe College included Hunter in its “Black Women Oral History" project, published in 1980. Additionally, Northwestern State University of Louisiana granted her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1986.
One of the more well-known displays of Hunter’s artwork is located in the African House on the grounds of Melrose Plantation. It's upstairs walls are covered in an elaborate mural that depicts the incredible stories of life on the Cane River. We encourage you to visit Melrose Plantation to see Clementine’s art, including the African House murals."
Often referred to as “the black Grandma Moses,” Clementine Hunter painted four to five thousand paintings, which were boldly colored images in folk art style of plantation life in Louisiana. Her subjects included everyday activities such as doing laundry and festive events including weddings, dances, and church going. She also did mural painting, and a number of her works had Christian religious subjects.
She was born at Hidden Hill Plantation near Natchitoches, Louisiana, and lived there the remainder of her life of one-hundred-one years, raising seven children and working in the fields. She attended a local Catholic school, but quit at a young age and never learned to read or write. At age sixteen, she moved to nearby Melrose Plantation, where she worked for many years as a field hand.
Her first male companion and father of two of her children was Charlie Dupree, who died in 1914. Ten years later she married Emanuel Hunter, and moved into the plantation house where she was in charge of the domestic work. Becoming associated with the plantation mistress, Ms. Cammie Henry, changed Hunter’s life. Henry, was an archivist and artist who actively encouraged the arts. She opened her home to artists and authors who needed a quiet place to work. It was at Melrose that Hunter first began her production of hand made quilts, dolls, and lace curtains.
Meeting artist friends of Ms. Henry, Hunter met many people in the art world and was especially influenced and promoted by Francois Mignon, who was an artist-in-residence at the plantation. In 1946, under his direction, she did her first work, a plantation baptism scene, from a few partially used tubes of oil paint on a window shade that he provided. Another supporter at that time was James Register, also an artist-in- residence, and he obtained a Julius Rosenwald Foundation Grant for her. He encouraged her to do abstract art, which she did while letting him choose the titles.
But she preferred the folk art style. From that time, she was prolific, and created over four-thousand scenes of plantation life on whatever materials were available from scrap wood to paper bags. She thinned her oil paint so much it resembled watercolor. She sold many of her first works for a dime or quarter to pay for her husband’s medical treatment.
Legacy and honors:
One of the more well-known displays of Hunter’s artwork is located in a food storage building called “African House” on the grounds of Melrose Plantation. (African House is often referred to as slave quarters, however the building was built for, and always used for food storage.) The walls are covered in a mural Hunter painted in 1955, depicting scenes of Cane River plantation life. When she completed the mural, a local newspaper ran the headline: “A 20th Century Woman of Color Finishes a Story Begun 200 Years Ago by an 18th Century Congo-Born Slave Girl, Marie-Therese, the original grantee of Melrose Plantation.”
The cafe and snack bar at the Alexandria Museum of Art is named for Hunter.
She was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum (now the New Orleans Museum of Art). She achieved significant recognition during her lifetime, including an invitation to the White House from U.S. President Jimmy Carter and letters from both President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr..
Radcliffe College included Hunter in its Black Women Oral History Project, published in 1980. Northwestern State University of Louisiana granted her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1986. The following year, Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards designated her as an honorary colonel, a state honor, and aide-de-camp.
Hunter has been the subject of biographies and artist studies, and inspired other works of art. In 2013 composer Robert Wilson presented a new opera about her: Zinnias: the Life of Clementine Hunter, at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art, Volume II
Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Museum of American Art Folk Art Encyclopedia
“Clementine Hunter,” Wikipedia, Web, Mar. 2016
Alice Rae Yelen, “Passionate Visions,” American Art Review, February, 1995