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Bridge at Lavington Plantation, 1928
Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (1876–1958)

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Status: Private Collection, Charleston, South Carolina

Alice Smith is one of the most celebrated and accomplished artists of the Charleston Renaissance, well known for lyrical, tonalist watercolors such as Bridge at Lavington Plantation. Born to a distinguished family in Charleston, she took early drawing and watercolor training at the Carolina Art Association (Gibbes Museum of Art), but was largely self-taught, developing her art through study, as well as association and friendship with visiting artists and friends, including Birge Harrison, Helen Hyde, and Bertha Jaques. 

In 1914, Smith contributed drawings for the book A Woman Rice Planter by Patience Pennington (Elizabeth Allston Pringle). One of the earliest historical preservationists, she also collaborated with her father, the historian D. E. H. Smith, providing architectural drawings for two important publications: Twenty Drawings of the Pringle House (1914 portfolio); and the book, The Dwelling Houses of Charleston, South Carolina (1917).

Smith experimented with wood-block printing in 1917, producing exquisite, original Japanese-influenced examples. She explored traditional Japanese printmaking, using actual woodblocks collected by her cousin Alston Motte Read. 

By the 1920s, Smith began concentrating on landscape watercolors. She portrayed the creeks, marshes, and swamps of the Lowcountry in a fluid style, as exemplified by Bridge at Lavington Plantation, painted in glistening tones of aqua, blue, gray, and purple. She centers the composition on the delicate construction of the bridge with a lone white heron, contrasted to darker areas in trees and paths through water and woods. Like many of the plantations Smith visited and portrayed during this period of her career, she was connected to Lavington by family relationship. Located south of Charleston on the Ashepoo River, the estate was a hunting preserve during the time that Smith created this watercolor.  She created several other views of Lavington in 1928 and 1929, as well as another two decades later in 1948. (1) 

Smith made sketches from nature, but generally composed larger and more formal watercolors in the studio. Her study of Ernest Fenollosa’s two-volume Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art (1912) remained significant in her creation of watercolors. Smith particularly praised the eleventh century Chinese landscape master, Kakki—an artist renowned for his rendering of landscapes in mist and haze. She was also influenced by Birge Harrison’s discipline of “memory sketches,” whereby the artist intensively studied a landscape view or fragment, made sketches, and then later rendered a watercolor of the scene from memory. (2) These methods gave her the more poetic and imaginative vision that she often sought in her work. Numerous sketches and sketchbooks also attest to Smith’s careful observation and recording of nature, through annotated pencil drawings and watercolor studies of flora and fauna: “I believed firmly in painting things that I really knew, and in studying them until I knew them still better.” (3)

In 1936, Smith published thirty of her watercolors in A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, her famous, retrospective portrayal of nineteenth century rice cultivation. Although her creative production slowed in the late 1930s and 1940s due to family illness and the war, she remained active until late in life. Roberta Sokolitz


1. Alice Ravenel Huger Smith of Charleston, South Carolina, an Appreciation on the Occasion of her Eightieth Birthday (Charleston: privately published, 1956), cat. nos. 281, 298, 321, 560.
2. Martha Severens, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith: An Artist, a Place and a Time (Charleston: Carolina Art Association, 1993): 45.
3. Letter from Alice R. Huger Smith to Mr. Millsaps, 19 April 1939, published in the Carolinian (May 1939): 7.

Additional Sources:

McCormack, Helen Gardner. “Alice Ravenel Huger Smith: An Appreciation.” Retrospective Exhibition of the Work of Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. Charleston: Carolina Art Association, 1947.

Sokolitz, Roberta. The Sound of the Wind in the Pines: the Poetic Vision of Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. Charleston: Carolina Galleries, 2002.

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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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