Solving the mysteries of John James Audubon’s Landscape Painting of Natchez

Published 8:52 pm Saturday, October 21, 2023

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The most famous artist to work in Natchez was naturalist John James Audubon (1785-1851), who first appeared in Natchez in 1820. Audubon returned in 1822, and remained until late 1823. In his career, Audubon is known to have painted only one landscape, likely painted in Natchez in 1823. The painting is known simply as “View of Natchez,” and its details yield a treasure of information about early Natchez.

Alan Wolf

After completion, “View of Natchez” was sold in Natchez and shipped to France. Eventually, the painting made its way back to Natchez, to the downtown mansion, Choctaw, and then after some time, to Natchez relations in New York City. In 1916, the painting returned to Natchez, to the suburban estate, Melrose. And then, a little more than 80 years later, the painting was sold out of Melrose to the Greenville County (South Carolina) Museum of Art, where it was kept in storage.

Since then, “View of Natchez” has made the rounds of an art dealer and major art and antiques show in New York, the Mississippi bicentennial exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art, and now is on display at the Greenville Museum.

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What does “View of Natchez” tell us about early Natchez? Why has the painting made such a travel odyssey? And, why would its having been painted by Audubon have been questioned?

These questions and more will be answered Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the regular monthly meeting of the Natchez Historical Society. The presenter will be Mimi Miller, the Executive Director Emerita of the Historic Natchez Foundation. Mrs. Miller has been researching Audubon and the history of “View of Natchez” for years. Her presentation will be a culmination of her years of study of the subject. It is a privilege for the Historical Society to offer Mimi Miller’s expertise on this topic of importance to Natchez.

John James Audubon is the singular Natchez figure most well known of all time in American history. That is why the Historical Society devoted its annual meeting this past January to Audubon-expert, Danny Heitman’s, presentation of Audubon’s sojourns in Natchez in 1820 and 1822-1823. Mr. Heitman’s references to Audubon’s “View of Natchez” have prompted a well-deserved focus on this significant work of art by itself, a work that so informatively describes our town in its early days. Hence, Mimi Miller’s coming presentation.
The Historical Society’s meeting will occur at the Historic Natchez Foundation, 108 S. Commerce St., in Natchez. The program will begin with a social at 5:30 p.m., with the presentation at 6 p.m. All are invited, members and non-members alike, and there is no charge for attendance.

The Historical Society’s programing is partly funded by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, through funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

ALAN WOLF is a director of the Natchez Historical Society and is its program chair.