The artist Julien Hudson was a member of the exclusive world of free people of color in antebellum New Orleans. Born in New Orleans on January 9, 1811, his father John Thomas Hudson was a British businessman and ironmonger, and his mother Suzanne Desirée Marcos, a free woman of color, who was the granddaughter of a former slave. In the outlaying areas of the French Quarter, in the Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater, a thriving Creole community of free people of color flourished. Their world co-existed with slavery in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana, where slaves were used as workers on sugar plantations and servants.
The Historic New Orleans Collection (www.hnoc.org) in conjunction with the Worcester Museum of Art has organized the exhibition “In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War New Orleans.” The curator of the traveling exhibition, William Rudolph, and local writer and historian Patricia Brady co-authored the lavishly illustrated book accompanying the exhibition. The exhibition and book revolves around five paintings, the only known signed paintings by Julien Hudson; the artist died an untimely death at the age of thirty three. Rudolph deftly reveals a fascinating tale about Hudson’s life and career, as the first identified African American artist working in New Orleans and the second identified African American artist working in America.
An interesting facet of the exhibition is the identification of “Julien Hudson’s Self Portrait” now in the collection of the Louisiana State Museum (lsm.crt.state.la.us). When it was donated to the museum by Dr. Isaac Monroe Cline, the famed U.S. Meteorologist and early art collector, it was noted in the accession reports as merely “Portrait of a Man.” During the Great Depression, a legion of workers was sent to the Louisiana State Museum to work in the collections and files. Ethel Hudson, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) supervisor identified the portrait for the first time and apparently with no documented proof as being Hudson’s self portrait in 1938. With the interest in African American art increasing on a national level, the Hudson portrait was published and exhibited frequently, including for the last fifteen years in the Cabildo, as a definitive self portrait.
The exhibition explores the life as a free person of color in New Orleans prior to the civil war. Of note, legally, free women of color women were compelled to wear a tignon, an elaborated tied and knotted head cloth, whenever in the public to identify their status. Also included in the exhibition are examples of works by Hudson’s New Orleans teachers François (Franz) Fleisbein and Antonio Merci and his Parisian teacher with Alexandre-Denis Abel de Pujol. A second room contains the work of free man of color Jules Lion, Hudson contemporary and fellow artist.
Since the weather has suddenly turned warm and it is a pleasure to once again roam around the city, the exhibition “In Search of Julien Hudson” is a good reason to visit to the French Quarter, have lunch, and do a little shopping before the summer settles in and it’s too darn hot!
The exhibition “In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War New Orleans” is on view at The Historic New Orleans Collections’ Williams Gallery (www.hnoc.org), 533 Royal Street in the French Quarter until May 15, 2011 with free admissions. The hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm and Sunday from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. The exhibition then travels to the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston and Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. The accompanied book can be purchased at THNOC bookstore and a recently published article in The Magazine Antiques written by William Rudolph on Julian Hudson is available on-line and in January/February 2011 issue (www.themagazineantiques.com).