How to Approach Southern Paintings: 4 Tips for Collectors

Jan 05,2015 | 14:14 EST By Lauren Brunk, Brunk Auctions

Have you ever heard the conventional wisdom: “buy on the whisper, sell on the news?” People have been whispering about Southern paintings for years and it will not be long before those whispers can be heard even north of Virginia.  But you are not too late to buy before Southern paintings become big news.  The sea of paintings and artists with Southern leanings is deep, wide, and complex. So how do you wade in? These 4 tips will help you get started.

Anna Catherine Wiley, Gathering in the Woods, Sold September 2012, $15,340

1. Find your connection

Look at a region that is of interest to you. If this is a purchase that you will live with, it will give you a great deal more pleasure if the imagery is evocative for you.  If your grandmother is from New Orleans, you might consider the work of  Will Henry Stevens, who painted both the coast of Louisiana and the Mountains of North Carolina. If your ideal vacation is fishing off the coast, then you might pick something like this Claude Howell dock scene.


Claude Flynn Howell, Weighing Shrimp, Sold July 2013, $23,600

2. What style do you prefer?

Do landscapes or portraiture resonate with you?  Do you prefer abstraction or representation? From the romantic imagery of Elliott Daingerfield to  Charleston Renaissance painters like Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, Southern paintings offer a range of styles.

Jeremiah Theus, Elizabeth Allen Deas, Sold May 2012, $123,900

Elizabeth ONeill Verner, Dolly Heyward, Sold March 2013, $25,960

3. Do your homework

Or better yet, find someone who has already done it for you! In most cases the Internet will yield tremendous amounts of information, from biographical information on a specific artist to pricing.  Paying for a work of art seems much more reasonable if you understand how that artwork came to be. Find out where the artist lived, where he or she trained, and what was going on in the region where he or she painted. How does the work relate to other artists in different regions?
Exhibitions that focus on Southern painting are being mounted with increasing frequency and you can access these exhibition catalogs for both interpretation and curatorial analysis of the works.

4. Find a painting that fits your lifestyle

Keep materials and scale in mind. If you live in an apartment, you might put together a great collection of miniature portraits, but only have room for one or two sweeping landscapes. If you have a very sunny space, you might not want to purchase works on paper because they will be difficult to maintain. And yes, it is OK to admit that you want something with blue in it, because that is the color in your couch.


Regional collecting is on the rise, and the South is an arena that not only offers material but also suggests a kind of authenticity and undiscovered feel that makes collecting even more exciting. There are a number of private collectors and institutions who are sponsoring scholarship.  This research is what will hold the market together.

Do you have a Southern painting? Share about your find and tag us on twitter @Bidsquare.

Will Henry Stevens, Mountain Landscape, Sold January 2014, $4,800