Alice Ravenel Huger Smith was an American painter from Charleston, South Carolina, active in the early 20th century. She worked in a variety of painting and printmaking media, but eventually settled on watercolor as her preferred medium.
Smith's watercolor work seems to be evenly divided into work that is more representational and work that is almost completely abstract, with some slight representational aspects. "Bayou Scene", painted in 1920, is clearly in the latter category. It looks like she was probably doing some wet-on-wet painting with different colors, starting with an abstraction based on color alone and letting the merging shapes inspire her as to subject matter. We can see that she indicated some wading birds and reeds at the shoreline of a bayou, hidden away in a thick, dark wood.
Owing to its transparency, watercolor has a singular ability to produce an incredibly luminous effect. Smith was known as a master of color, and I suspect she chose watercolor for this property. In the painting, the ethereal glow of the water could be interpreted as reflecting the chance glow of a sunset. It frames the two shore birds and serves as a striking focal point against the dark clusters of cypress trees. The ripples on the water are a mesmerizing pattern, and the abstract shadows in the forest make it look even more mysterious. The blurry, nebulous quality of this piece makes it look at once like a frozen snapshot in time that will quickly change, and also like a mystical vision or apparition that might not even be there at all, possibly a glimpse into some magical fairy realm.
All this from just playing with light and shadow, shape and color! It's a mysterious, playful piece; very lovely and fun to look at. It's also an ode to creativity, and a marriage of abstract and representational art that explains and expands upon the appeal of both.
Image is in the Public Domain.
Source: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bayou_Scene_Alice_Ravenel_Huger_Smith_1920.jpeg