Front Porch: Summer 1997

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Front Porch: Summer 1997

by Harry L. Watson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 3, No. 2: Summer 1997

"What happens when one person looks at the art of another?"

What happens when one person looks at the art of another? James Henry Hammond, an ambitious planter-politician of antebellum South Carolina, got one very depressing answer in 1841 when he threw open his dazzling new house to a select circle of Columbia’s most cultivated gentlemen. Hammond later gained immortality by coining the phrase “Cotton is King,” but his biographers mostly agree that he was not an easy man to love. Though everybody said he was brilliant, it seems that Hammond was also a snob and an egotist who could never get quite enough adulation to satisfy him. During a lengthy trip to Italy, Hammond had spent much time and a small fortune cultivating his artistic taste and amassing a representative collection of fine paintings to prove it. The housewarming in Columbia was intended to show off his acquirements to an admiring elite, and Hammond looked forward to hearing their excited murmurs and knowing compliments as each new treasure came into view.