Cornelius Hankins

(American, ca. 1864 – 1946)

Cornelius Hankins, landscape, portrait and still-life painter, was born around 1864 in Guntown, Mississippi to Reverend Edward Lockee Hankins and Annie Mary McFadden. The sixth of eight children, he was deaf until the age of eight as a result of smallpox. In his early twenties, he studied in Nashville with Professor E.M. Gardner who founded the Nashville Art Association and had close ties with Watkins School of Design. While studying in Nashville, Hankins taught art at Miss Clark's Select School for Girls in nearby Rutherford County. In the late 1890s, he spent a few years teaching and working in Richmond, Virginia. While there, he was commissioned to paint portraits of twelve Confederate generals from photos for Lee Camp, now Battle Abbey. In 1898, he married fellow artist Sophia Maude McGhee (1875-1968) who specialized in china paintings, miniatures and watercolors. He was reacquainted with Tennessee in 1901 when the Tennessee General Assembly commissioned him to paint a portrait of Robert E. Lee. Hankins and his wife moved to Nashville in 1904. For a while he was associated with George W. Chambers of the Nashville School of Art. Beginning in 1910, he spent a couple years in Europe studying the work of prominent European artists. A few years after his return to the United States, in 1915, he returned to Richmond to paint a view of the state capitol. However, painting portraits for the Shelby Court House in Virginia provided more money.

Hankins' talent is best illustrated in his delicate bucolic landscapes and captivating still lifes. The influence of his Impressionist teacher Chase is evident in Hankins' thematic approach to his still lifes. His dark, vivid paintings exude an air of mystery reminiscent of the eighteenth century French artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin. Hankins' careful approach and dramatic lighting adds to the mystifying atmosphere surrounding his paintings. While his still lifes best exemplify his talent, Hankins earned the most recognition and financial success from his portraits. Although his life-size portraits were often disproportional, he received numerous commissions from state governments and painted over a thousand portraits. At his death, in 1946, county courthouses and capitol buildings all over the south housed examples of his work.

  • Studied
  • With Professor E.M. Gardner, Nashville
  • With William M. Chase, New York School of Fine Arts
  • New York School of Fine Art
  • In Europe
  • Exhibited
  • Richmond Art Club (first three exhibitions)
  • Fine Arts Center at Cheekwood, 1972 (retrospective)
  • Nashville Artist Guild Gallery, 1980
  • References
  • _____, "Cornelius and Maude Hankins," (exhibition catalog from Cheekwood)
  • _____, "Nashville Artist/Century II," (exhibition catalog from the Nashville Artist Guild Gallery)
  • Falk (ed.), Who Was Who in American Art
  • Gerdts, Art Across America
  • Kelly, Landscape and Genre Painting in Tennessee, 1810-1985
  • Pennington, Gracious Plenty, American Still-Life Art from Southern Collections
  • Wright, Artists in Virginia before 1900
  • Tn. Historical Society, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture
  • Caldwell, et al, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Art of Tennessee
  • Work
  • Virginia Historical Society
  • Tennessee State Museum
  • Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History
  • Cheekwood Museum of Art and Botanical Garden
  • Tennessee State Capitol (nine portraits)
  • Alabama State Capitol (six portraits)
  • Mississippi State Capitol (two portraits)
  • Louisiana State Capitol (one portrait)
  • Various county courthouses in the South