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The importance of painting at home

(Page 2 of 2)

The 1830-1900 period was one of growth for Southern art. Outstanding from these years are a stunning family portrait by James A. Cameron; ''The Carnival, '' by Winslow Homer, painted during one of his periodic visits to Virginia; ''Mich-e-no-pah,'' George Catlin's portrait of a Seminole Indian chief; ''Negro Boy,'' by Eastman Johnson; and a remarkable unsigned portrait of a ''Maid of the Douglas Family,'' which might have been painted by Jules Hudson.

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According to Rick Stewart, who organized the 1900-1950 section, painting in the South during the first 70 years of the 20th century witnessed three clearly defined periods. ''The first, encompassing 30 years or so, involves a group of artists whose roots and training lay largely outside the South but whose later life and work in the region developed in a clearly defined pattern paralleling the quickening resurgence and self-definition of the South itself. . . . The second period begins at about the time of the depression and includes the period during, but not immediately following, World War II. Although art never rose to the heights of literature, it nevertheless made an important and lasting contribution to regional and national culture. . . . The final period, which comes after 1945, can be seen as one of consolidation and synthesis, a maturation of the Southern painter, an artist who knew his roots but who fashioned work that transcended them.''

And Donald B. Kuspit, writing on the art of the 1950-80 period, makes this point: ''The advanced southern painter does not want to be a separatist, but he also does not want to lose his individuality. He wants to join the mainstream of modernist abstraction, but he does not want to give up his southernness in the process.''

Yet the contemporary Southern painter is somewhat shortchanged by the truncated version of this exhibition. It is unfortunate that limitations of space forced the National Academy to reduce the show's full complement of 174 paintings to 121, especially since some of the most notable exclusions are from the 1950-80 period. Contemporary Southern painting, as a result, comes across as considerably more conservative than it actually is. In this respect, the fully illustrated catalog gives a more accurate picture of what is gong on in the South today.

The first half of the 20th century comes off quite well, however, with Gari Melcher's ''The Hunters,'' Robert Gwathmey's ''Hoeing,'' Romare Bearden's ''The Prevalence of Ritual: Tidings'' (actually painted in 1973), and John Kelly Fitzpatrick's ''Negro Baptising'' heading the list.

After its closing at the National Academy on May 27, ''Painting in the South'' travels to the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, Miss. (June 24-Aug. 26); the J.B. Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky. (Sept. 16-Nov. 11); and the New Orleans Museum of Art (Dec. 9-Feb. 3, 1985).