In a previous post, I discussed the beautiful frescoes at the William S. Simmons Plantation. I have done a good deal of research trying to learn more about these frescoes. After writing the previous post, I emailed the people responsible for the beautiful restoration at Beauvoir - Linda Croxson and Philip Ward - in the hope they might be able to point me towards some resources that might aid in my research. Mr. Ward was kind enough to respond and confirmed what I had suspected - it is difficult to determine the identity of the artist unless original documentation exists.
"Unfortunately that information rarely survives and is not often available," Ward wrote.
That regrettably may be the case with the William S. Simmons Plantation, but I will keep looking. There was some good news however. Upon reviewing the interior photos, Mr. Ward is of the opinion the frescoes were done in the same time period as those at Beauvoir - the early 1850s.
"It does seem to be of similar style and quality, and dates from around the same period, but that is a reflection of the fashion of that time for first-class work," he wrote.
He also confirmed what my research had indicated to date - there are not many of these frescoes remaining.
"The quality of work you are dealing with at the Simmons Plantation was once extremely popular and geographically widespread but over time a great deal of it has disappeared," Ward wrote.
We are very fortunate to be able to enjoy such historic, beautiful and now rare artistry.
The most unusual feature of the William S. Simmons Plantation is the interior paint. Though four of the rooms no longer have their original paint, three rooms and the upstairs and downstairs foyer do. Several doors and mantels also are painted using a technique known as faux bois. Several of the doors are painted to appear as if they have raised panels where there are none and three of the mantels and fireplace surrounds have what appear to be the remnants of a marbled pattern (see photos below).
In my research, I've found examples of more rustic, folk-style murals done by itinerant artists using a combination of stenciling and hand-painting techniques, but have yet to find anything that truly compares to this house except perhaps Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis' home in Mississippi.
The interior of Davis' home, according to a staff member at Beauvoir, was painted by a German artist out of New Orleans named Muller. Beauvoir, like the William S. Simmons Plantation, also features faux wood designs on the doors and wall frescoes which incorporate the art technique trompe l'oeil - to deceive the eye. In the case of the Simmons Plantation, the frescoes are now quite faded.
The Rococo-style frescoes at Beauvoir, which are believed to have been completed between 1850-52, were beautifully restored by Linda Croxson and Philip Ward and, based on the photos I've seen, are far more elaborate than the ones in our Cave Spring home. Still, there are definite similarities and it is easy to imagine how beautiful the walls in the William S. Simmons Plantation must have been at one time. Click here for images of Beauvoir and take a look at this CNN article (photo number 5) to see what a restored, marbled-finish fireplace looks like (this is how I imagine the fireplaces in the William S. Simmons Plantation once looked). The Wall Street Journal also has a wonderful Beauvoir slideshow which shows the foyer of the home and gives you an idea of how gorgeous these frescoes must have been when freshly painted.
This bedroom, which I call the blue bedroom, is my favorite bedroom. The wall paint is original and is the best preserved in the entire house. The fireplace and mantel have a faux bois finish. The mantel has a marbled paint pattern and the door, just like most of the other doors in the house, was painted to give the appearance of panels where there are none. Another interesting feature of the room is a message written in charcoal on the wall near the fireplace (see photos). The images below show the room at various times since the house was purchased. The panoramic photo above was taken in summer 2013.