First Retrospective of Early African American Artist Julien Hudson at Worcester Art Museum

Julien Hudson, 1811−1844 American, Portrait of a Free Man of Color, 1835, oil on canvas, private collection.
Julien Hudson, 1811−1844 American, Portrait of a Free Man of Color, 1835, oil on canvas, private collection.
  • Julien Hudson, 1811-1844 American.  Creole Boy With A Moth, 1835, oil on canvas, courtesy of a private collection; photo courtesy of Fodera Fine Art Conservation, Ltd.

    Julien Hudson, 1811-1844 American. Creole Boy With A Moth, 1835, oil on canvas, courtesy of a private collection; photo courtesy of Fodera Fine Art Conservation, Ltd.

A groundbreaking exhibition opened Dec. 9 at the Worcester Art Museum entitled “In Search of Julien Hudson:  Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War New Orleans.” Julien Hudson (1811-1844) is the second-earliest documented portrait painter of African descent to work in the United States. Little-known today, Hudson died an untimely, somewhat mysterious death, and only fragments of his oeuvre survive to tell his story.

This exhibit, organized by William Keyse Rudolph, is the first retrospective of the artist.

Included in the exhibit are the six known paintings by Hudson, one of which may be his self-portrait, as well as work by the painter’s contemporaries. 

Initially a tailor’s apprentice, Hudson dropped that line of work to pursue painting with fashionable miniature portraitist Antonio Meucci.  Later, he studied in Paris with Alexandre Abel de Pujol, before returning to Louisiana to set up his own studio in 1931.

The work of the New Orleans native sheds some light on the “third caste” that existed in that city, a group known as gens de colour libre, or free people of color, who had a legal and social status that positioned them between the enslaved and free whites.

This exhibit is in part supported by a NEA grant, as well as by the Worcester Art Museum and The Historic New Orleans Collection, and will run through March 11, 2012, in Worcester, Mass.

(Report: Christine Bolli for ARTFIXdaily)

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