by Clementine Hunter. First oil painting "Bowl of Zinnias".
| "Bowl of Zinnias"
Clementine Hunter's First Oil Painting
Secret Paintings of Clementine Hunter - Part 3
James L. Wilson, Clementine Hunter authority and scholar, notes
in his book, "Clementine Hunter -- American Folk Artist",
that Francois Mignon thought Clementine may have been painting
earlier than 1940.* As the history of the "Bowl of Zinnias"
testifies, Francois Mignon was right.
Whitfield Jack, Jr. tells the story of
Clementine Hunter's First Oil Painting:
"Although the gardens of Melrose were vast and plentiful,
it was my grandmother's custom on her frequent visits to Melrose
to take something from her own garden to Mrs. Cammie. On one
of these occasions, when Alberta Kinsey was also there, the flowers
happened to be a bunch of zinnias which were in a hammered copper
pitcher (the "bowl" shown in the "Bowl of Zinnias"
to see the "bowl" in later paintings
As my grandmother related the story to me, she and Miss Kinsey
were visiting together, and Miss Kinsey was so struck by the
beauty of the zinnias and the copper pitcher, that she began
to do a sketch for a still life of the arrangement. At one point
Clementine came into the room and commented that she thought
she might be able to paint a picture, too. Miss Kinsey stopped
her sketching and rounded up a collection of partially used tubes
of oil paint and gave them to Clementine, telling her to take
the copper pitcher and the flowers and try her hand.
my grandmother's return a few weeks later, Clementine presented
her with the painting of the pitcher and the bouquet of zinnias.
It was done on a piece of corrugated cardboard, actually the
side of a corrugated box; and in her enthusiasm Clementine had
apparently used up the entire supply of paint. The oils were
laid on with abandon in thick brush strokes and generous dabs.
The zinnias seemed to almost come alive, ready to be picked.
Detail from Clementine Hunter's
painting "Bowl of Zinnias"
showing the thickly-applied oil paint
After this initial and singular extravagance with oils, Clementine
apparently found that supplies were very hard to come by and
was forced to economize in the use of her paint. Subsequent paintings,
including the famous window-shade painting, were painted with
oils highly-thinned with turpentine.
My discovery that Francois knew Clementine had done some early
paintings before the window-shade painting came one day when
I was visiting him at Melrose. He was showing a group of visitors
around, and I heard him telling them his traditional story of
Clementine presenting him with her "first painting"
-- the window-shade painting with scenes of plantation life.
Inasmuch as I had always understood that the "Bowl of Zinnias"
was her first oil painting (and had heard Clementine herself
refer to it as 'my first, and my favorite'), I asked Francois
how there could be two "first" paintings?
to The Secret Paintings of Clementine Hunter - Part 4
In Part 4
Francois Mignon reveals to Whitfield Jack, Jr.
the existence of the early works
Vignettes of Melrose by Whitfield Jack, Jr.
to read in sequence
Top of Page
James L. Wilson, "Clementine Hunter -- American Folk Artist"
Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna La. 1990. Page 27.