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Florence County Museum exhibit to feature works by SC portraitist William Scarborough

September 2, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. – The Florence County Museum has opened an exhibition of antebellum portraiture by South Carolina artist William Harrison Scarborough.

“Revisited: The Early Portraiture of William Harrison Scarborough,” on exhibit at the Florence County Museum through Feb. 24, showcases the artist’s Darlington period as the foundation upon which his later success was built. He lived in Darlington from approximately 1838 to 1845.

A reception and public lecture are planned for Thursday, Oct. 18.

The museum is at 111 W. Cheves St. in downtown Florence. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The exhibition features 22 artworks by Scarborough, including a rare self-portrait and one of few documented miniature portraits on ivory.

Scarborough probably was the most prolific portraitist in South Carolina during the 19th century. He is known to have created at least 600 portraits from 1836 to 1871. His reputation is usually based on the numerous images he created of South Carolina’s politicians, such as John C. Calhoun.

Although much is known of the artworks he produced while living in Columbia from around 1845 to 1871, less discussion is made about his prior life and work in the Pee Dee. Although the exact dates he came and went from Darlington are unknown, he was advertising his professional skills in Cheraw as early as 1836.

“This exhibit is the first of its kind in South Carolina in nearly 50 years,” said museum curator Stephen W. Motte. “The last was held at the old Florence Museum building in 1969 and was only open for 20 days.”

Scarborough was an exceptional portraitist, because he was not only able to capture a person’s likeness but in many instances his subject’s character, Motte said.

“It’s a distinction between skill and talent, which he clearly had both,” Motte said.

Unique to the exhibit is a suite of recently conserved portraits of the Witherspoon family of Darlington. The Witherspoons are the namesake of Witherspoon Island on the Great Pee Dee River.

The three portraits of John Dick, Elizabeth and Boykin Witherspoon are on loan to the museum from family descendants living in California. The portraits left Darlington in the 1850s and for years remained at the Alabama plantation home of Boykin Witherspoon. His descendants moved to California, taking the paintings with them.

According to Motte, the museum has been pursuing these portraits since around 2011, with hopes of exhibiting them at its new facility.

“The Witherspoon portraits were very well worth the wait,” Motte said, “These paintings allow us to use fine art as a vehicle for teaching local history. Finding and exhibiting artwork like this is intrinsic to the museum’s mission.”

Scarborough left Tennessee for South Carolina in 1836. He continued producing portraits on commission for patrons in Darlington after he left the area around 1845.

The exhibit contains six works from the permanent collection of the Trustees of the Florence Museum, as well as several significant historical artifacts that relate to the paintings and to Scarborough’s history in the Pee Dee, including a double-portrait daguerrotype of his wife, Miranda Eliza Miller, and her sister, of Sumter.

The remaining artworks in the exhibition are on loan from other institutions and private collections.

For more information, visit flocomuseum.org or contact the museum at 843-676-1200.

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