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Romantic Landscape

Fraser, Charles
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
1825-1835 C.
oil on canvas
HOA: 27″ ; WOA: 33″
Accession Number:
The artist Charles Fraser is best known for his portraits, still lifes, and his small plantation landscapes. However, Fraser also experimented with landscapes in the romantic tradition. In this painting ruins by a lake are dramatically back lit by the rising sun.

A very similar composition signed by Anne (DeWolf) Middleton on a Charleston-made canvas is thought to be a copy of a work by the artist Thomas Doughty (1793-1856). (MRF NN-2256). Doughty was a prolific landscape painter in Philadelphia and New York. Though there is no evidence that he visited Charleston, his work–often middling copies of European paintings–were almost certainly hanging on the walls of Charleston homes. Perhaps Middleton and Fraser were both working from the same source in an effort to expand their artistic repertoire.

ARTIST: Charles Fraser (1782-1860) was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He was the fourteenth and last child born to Alexander Fraser and Mary (Grimke) Fraser. At the age of sixteen he followed his family’s wishes and began the study of law. By 1804 he was working in the office of the Attorney-General of South Carolina and in 1807, he was admitted to the bar.

Though Fraser practiced law during his early adulthood, his passion was art. He demonstrated his artistic aptitude at an early age; extant sketchbooks date as early as 1796, when Fraser was only fourteen. He established lifelong friendships with artists such as Thomas Sully (1783-1872), Edward Greene Malbone (1777-1807), and Washington Allston (1779-1843). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Fraser was not an itinerant artist, though he did make five trips to the northern states where he visited the studios of other artists. He worked to promote public art exhibitions and collections in Charleston, and was a director of the South Carolina Academy of Fine Arts until its closure circa 1832.

Fraser exhibited widely during his lifetime. His work was shown in Philadelphia and New York as well as Charleston. His most important exhibit was the 1857 “Fraser Gallery” exhibit organized in his honor by a group of prominent citizens in Charleston. Over three hundred of his works were included in this exhibit. According to the catalog of the exhibition, his Still Life with Duck and Partridges (acc. 5470) was the last work he painted.

FRAME: In its original carved and gilt frame.

RELATED OBJECTS: It is among a large group of related objects in the MESDA collection with Fraser family histories. These include a Chippendale-style chest of drawers (acc. 2787) with a fitted upper drawer, an easy chair (acc. 2788.2), a candle stand (acc. 2788.1), the painted box created by Fraser for his niece Ann Susan Winthrop (acc. 5471), a miniature portrait by Fraser of his niece Sophia Fraser (acc. 5509), and a still life painting of a duck and partridges (acc. 5470).

This painting has a history of descent in the Ball family of Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina. It is one of a pair that is believed to have belonged originally to Hugh Swinton Ball (1808-1838), a well-documented collector who died with his wife and only child in the explosion of the steamship Pulaski. Ball’s estate was sold to various heirs, and his probate inventory listed paintings, including “2 Landscapes by Fraser @ $20 = $40” and “1 Landscape by Fraser $15” at his Charleston townhouse on Pinckney Street, and “2 oil landscapes by Fraser @ $10 $20” and “1 oil Night View Broad Street Charleston, Fraser $15” at Mepshew plantation in St. John’s Berkeley Parish. The pair later belonged to John Coming Ball (1848-1926) and his wife, Anne Hume Simons (1857-1914), who acquired Middleburg plantation shortly after the Civil War, in 1872.
Credit Line:
Gift of C. Philip and Corbett Toussaint