Abstract: Painting on the Most Reasonable Terms: The Business of Art in the Early Rural South

Georgina E. Gajewski


Before the age of photographic reproduction began with the introduction of the daguerreotype in 1839, portrait artists provided the only means of recording a likeness. During the period of the early Republic, many painters traveled to the Southern states, attracted by the region's reputed wealth and refinement. This paper compiles data on the more than forty-five artists known to have worked in North Carolina between 1790 and 1830, who primarily hailed from the northeastern United States and Western Europe. These artists made use of sophisticated entrepreneurial devices to navigate the unfamiliar Southern market, including offering money-back guarantees, advance subscription lists, group discounts, and diversifying services offered. These painters advertised prices that made their services accessible for non-elites, and as a result competed for consumer dollars not only with other painters but also with local merchants who provided a variety of inexpensive, fashionable, and decorative goods. This paper suggests that although Southerners had less incentive to abandon agriculture than did their Northern counterparts, those who attempted to make a living as itinerant artists would have been crowded out by the significant number of non-Southern artists who successfully marketed their products to a wide range of consumers.