Even though it retains several of the Telfair family’s rooms, the Telfair mansion is not listed among Savannah’s historic homes like the Owens-Thomas House that it administers.
Edward Telfair, 4 time Governor of Georgia, was a member of the Continental Congress. An important man in his day, Edward’s name is on the Articles of Confederation, the document that officially established the USA and was signed by reps from all 13 of the original colonies. Born in Scotland, Edward emigrated to Virginia at age 23 and eventually moved to Savannah, GA, where he put down roots. Twelve men reportedly received electoral votes for the first US President and Edward Telfair was one of them.
When Edward died in 1807, his son Alexander was 18. At the age of 29 Alexander, now the head of the family, decided to build a mansion for himself, his 3 unmarried sisters, and his mom. Completed in 1819, it’s now on Telfair Square but transformed. Alexander’s sister Mary, who never married, was the last surviving Telfair by 1875. She left the house her brother built to the Georgia Historical Society to become a museum, which opened to the public 11 years later as the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, now the oldest museum in The South. Its German born architect, Detlef Lienau, removed staircases, added 2 museum-size galleries, etc. The upstairs bedrooms are art display areas, but several rooms that the Telfairs would recognize remain. My favorite was their dining room, which gave me a genuine glimpse into their elegant 19th century lifestyle with its Monuments of Paris wallpaper, Duncan Phyfe sideboard, etc.
The art in Telfair’s Rotunda and Sculpture Galleries is just, well, fair. Lots of what’s permanently on view are the works of artists with unfamiliar names who are often identified as friends of major artists. In the Sculpture Gallery are also copies of major European statues, like the Dying Gaul and the Belvedere Hermes now in the Vatican Museum. I really did like 2 paintings in the Sculpture Gallery: Julian Story’s epic “The Black Prince of Crécy” and the Ashcan School’s George Bellows amazing “Snow Capped River”. In a highly narrative Prince-Valiant-like scene from the Hundred Years War, Edward Prince of Wales, the Black Prince, kneels in frozen tribute to the fallen blind King of Bohemia, who lies dead on the battlefield.
About 6 blocks away, the Owens-Thomas House that The Telfair Museum of Art operates, is an excellent example of Regency architecture that somewhat reminded me of Charleston’s Aiken-Rhett House Museum because it has been left mostly unrestored. The tour of it was also only fair.