Lot 52: Alexandre Alaux (French/New Orleans)
December 2, 2016
New Orleans, LA, USALive Auction
Description: Alexandre Alaux (French/New Orleans, 1851-1932), “Portrait of Woman Wearing a Madres Calendé (previously thought to be Marie Laveau)”, after engraving in Two Years in the French West Indies by Lafcadio Hearn, oil on copper, signed mid-right, 3 3/4 in. x 3 in., period frame. Provenance: Gaspar Cusachs, entrepreneur, historian and collector, (1855-1929); The Gaspar Cusachs Collection, loaned to the Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans, LA (c. 1909-2016). Note: Alexandre Alaux was born in France, but New Orleans became his home by the time he was just four years old. A talented artist from a young age, Alaux studied with Francois Bernard (1812-1875) and began earning medals and prizes in 1869. An accomplished artist, Alaux was proficient in painting miniatures, landscapes, portraits, and historical paintings. Among the subjects of his portraits, Alaux enjoyed copying earlier works of prominent New Orleans citizens such as Etienne de Boré and Don Andres Almonaster y Roxas. The woman in this miniature, although of unknown identity, presents a fascinating look at a prosperous free woman of color. The mixture of patterns on the fabric of her dress and tignon add an interesting layer of exoticism, while still maintaining the current fashion in western society. Probably self-commissioned as evidenced by the sitters apparent control of the manner and style of the painting, the painting includes a tignon to signify the sitters racial status; however its bright pattern makes a beautiful complement to her face, and the pose has a sense of refinement and strong sense of self. The sitters elaborate jewelry, as well as the fact that she had the means to commission a portrait, indicates that she had both wealth and position in society. Other well-known artists painting portraits of free women of color in Louisiana, just one to two decades earlier, were Jacques Amans and Franz Fleischbein, whose works Alaux undoubtedly had studied.