Rare Mid-19th Century Portrait Painting Acquisition

Portrait painting - Circle of Julien Hudson (New Orleans, mid-19th century), "Portrait of a Youth," oil on canvas, 12 x 8 7/8 inches.
Circle of Julien Hudson (New Orleans, mid-19th century), “Portrait of a Youth,” oil on canvas, 12 x 8 7/8 inches.

The Lyman Allyn Art Museum has announced the purchase of a portrait painting of a mixed-race youth, ca. 1830s-‘40s, a rare work that speaks to the diverse community of free Blacks that existed in New Orleans before the Civil War. It is on view in the Museum’s American Perspectives gallery, having been installed just in time to add to the celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.

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The intriguing portrait of a mixed-race young man is closely related to the portraiture of Julien Hudson, one of the earliest free painters of color in America. Hudson was born in New Orleans and his principal period of activity was from 1831 until 1844, when he died prematurely at age 33. A thriving community of free people of color existed in early 19th-century New Orleans, unique to the American South.

Within that community, Hudson was patronized by both white and mixed-race clients and is known to have taught students as well, although their identities remain largely unknown.

“We are very pleased to add this exquisite image of a youth, very likely painted by an important free black American artist, to our permanent collection,” said Lyman Allyn Director, Sam Quigley. “It was acquired as part of our intentional effort to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels within the Museum’s collection, programming, staff, and board.”

The painting was purchased for the Lyman Allyn’s permanent collection from Robert Simon Fine Art, Inc., New York, where it was featured in the recent exhibition “Beyond Boundaries: Historical Art by and of People of Color.” At the Lyman Allyn this portrait is now on view in “American Perspectives,” the Museum’s permanent collection galleries of American art.

For more information, please visit www.lymanallyn.org.

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