[T]he life and death of Julien Hudson and the
whereabouts of his paintings is a fascinating
"art historical mystery'' waiting to be solved.
The second-earliest documented painter
'of African descent' in the U.S., Hudson
was making his mark as a portraitist
in New Orleans in the early 1800s
before dying of unknown causes,
leaving behind just six canvases.
Who was the man with searching eyes
in one of his remaining paintings?
Did he kill himself, as some suspect?
With his sixth painting discovered by a New England
collector, can more of Hudson's valuable works be
found in area shops, flea markets or your attic?
An intriguing exhibit, "In Search of Julien Hudson,'' at the Worcester
Art Museum, offers the first retrospective about the man and the
artist whose enigmatic career casts light on the lives of free Blacks
and Mixed-Race people in Louisiana before the Civil War?
Organizer William Keyse Rudolph said,
"The search for Julien Hudson isn't over.''
"Julien was a very charming painter.
He's definitely important from the
historical and biographical standpoint.
And he's definitely part of the bigger story of
art in New Orleans on a grand scale,'' he said.
The former curator of American Art at WAM, Rudolph worked with staff
at The Historic New Orleans Collection to include all of Hudson's known
paintings, work by his teachers, contemporaries and student.
Rudolph recently took over as curator of American
art and decorative art at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Subtitled "Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War
New Orleans,'' the exhibit, which is making its third and
final stop in Worcester, will be on view through March 11.
While comprising about 35 paintings, sculptures, photos
and documents, the exhibit opens a revealing window on
the little-known communities of free people-of-color, or
"gens de couleur libre,'' that thrived in New Orleans, Baltimore
and Charleston, S.C., between the Revolution and Civil War.
Rudolph said, "For the very first time we're using Hudson's
life and art to tell a bigger story about free people-of-color.
It's fascinating story that a lot of people in the North don't know.''
Filling three galleries, the exhibit starts by examining Hudson's origins,
training and striking examples of portraits by other ['of-color'] artists.
A small enclosed middle section showcases all the artist's
works and the third section includes work by his contemporaries.
Visitors will see all six of Hudson's known paintings,
distinctive portraits that display the "conventions
of the era while displaying the stylistic influence
of the artist's two trips to Paris.
In two early paintings of children, "Portrait of a Young Girl
With A Rose'' and |"Portrait of a Boy with a Moth'' from 1834
and 1835, Hudson conventionally put symbolic objects in the
children's hands and places them against colorful backgrounds.
Four years later, after returning from France, Hudson depicted
Jean Michel Fortier the only portrait in which the sitter
is known as direct and forceful and a bit of a dandy.
Equally fascinating, the show features paintings by other
Black and Mixed-race artists whose portraits often depict
people of their community in a surprising new light.
There are several distinctive sculptures by Florville Foy,
a free [person-of-color] who was a successful
artist, marble cutter and business owner.
For many New Englanders, "In Search of Julien Hudson''
will provide an exciting opportunity to learn about
a vital subculture of the pre-Civil War South that
belies some stereotypes and confirms others.
Rudolph explained that Hudson was the Mixed-Race grandson
of a woman who been freed from slavery and the oldest of four
children born from the Union of Desiree Marcos and Thomas
Hudson, an English merchant and ship's chandler.
From its founding in 1718 to its sale in 1803 to the U.S. as part
of the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans maintained a class of
free 'people-of-color' who were re garded as a "third caste,''
with a legal and social status that positioned
them between the enslaved and free whites.
Hudson's life reveals many of the possibilities and limitations
experienced by free ['people-of-color'] in New Orleans.
Born in 1811, he was initially apprenticed as a teenager
to a tailor but after two years abandoned that career
to learn to paint the then-fashionable miniature
portraits from Italian Antonio Meucci.
He later studied under two Europeans with close ties to Paris.
While Rudolph and other art historians have discovered
fascinating details of Hudson's life, the circumstances of his
death in 1844 and the whereabouts of whatever paintings
he completed during his last decade remain out of reach.
A statement by historian Rodolph Desdunes, who
wrote of Creole life in the South, suggested Hudson
"preferred to die in misery and anonymity rather than
display his talent to the detriment of his self-respect.
It is said that disillusionment cast a
cloud of despair over his whole life.''
Yet Rudolph said no official record lists
Hudson's death in December 1844 or his burial.
Visitors will likely be drawn to Hudson's
masterpiece, an 1839 oil painting of a slim
man with sideburns and deep-set eyes sometimes
called "Portrait of a Man, Called a Self Portrait.''
While some claimed it was Hudson, Rudolph
said most historians today dispute that claim.
Yet 170 years later, Hudson's subject whatever
his identity gazes across the ages reminding us of an
artist who remains tantalizingly familiar but forever unknown.
By Chris Bergeron/DAILY NEWS STAFF
MetroWest Daily News
Posted Dec 12, 2011 @ 10:00 AM
Copyright 2011 The MetroWest Daily News. Some rights reserved
Read more: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/arts/x530349788/An-art-history-mystery-at-Worcester-Art-Museum#ixzz1gX1a5VmY