Sunday, June 24, 2012

Praline Lady

"Praline Lady" by Andrew Lamar Hopkins 

The Great Renaissance artist Michelangelo use to say that "He did not create sculptures, but the figures were already in the stone and he just released them by chipping away the parts of stone that were not them. Michelangelo was an Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer. Michelangelo was also a very modest person, so modest that in his lifetime he was also often called Il Divino ("the divine one").

Although painting is different then sculpture, as Michelangelo saw his figures in ruff stone most artist  visualize a finished canvas while looking at a white one. I know I do. Although most of my work evolve as I paint.  I was very happy and pleased with one of my most recent works titled "Praline Lady". In most of my paintings the main feature is Historic architecture as that is the first thing you see when looking at one of my paintings. Secondary are the people. In "Praline Lady" one see the doorway of a grand Classical French Quarter home.  

Massive Granite steps lead up to a wooden Greek Revival entablature with Tower-of-the-Winds pilasters,brackets and denticulation. The Transom and sidelights have Neoclassical wrought iron decoration. The front door is wood grained to look like flamed Mahogany. The brown bricks you see on the home are known in New Orleans as Lake brick. It was discovered in the early 19th century that brick made from the clay of Lake Pontchartrain were of a better quality then the soft red bricks made from the clay of the Mississippi river used to build much of the earlier French Quarter.  The window lintels are of imported King of Prussia marble found only in Pennsylvania. 


The 1830's was a very prosperous time for New Orleans and during the decade of the 1830's more homes and buildings were built in the city then in any other earlier period in New Orleans. Cotton was King and wealth was flowing in the Crescent city. Because of faster,cheaper transportation like the Steam boat, building materials like Quincy Granite and King of Prussia marble from Pennsylvania were readily available in a Boom town like New Orleans. As well as the New England slate used to paved the sidewalk or banquettes as the Creoles called them.
As I visualize this painting before I started on it I wanted it to display Great Historic architecture mixed with 19th century Creole street life. Just about every visitor that visited New Orleans during the first half of the 19th century and wrote about it talked about street venders, Hawkers or peddlers. Creole New Orleans had some of the most colorful street venders in America. Being inspired by the recent "Creole Sweet" forum "The Praline and its world' I attended given by the Historic New Orleans Collection. I decided to ad a Creole Praline lady selling her homemade pralines to eager customers. 

The scene and architecture is from the 1830's a Golden period for New Orleans. I'm not good with drawing or panting people. Most of the people in my paintings are copied from 19th century French Fashion plates. But the figure of the Creole Praline lady is purely my ideal. I positioned a friend in the pose you see the Praline Lady in, in the painting.  I photographed him to get the anatomy right and turned him into a Creole Free-woman-of-color.  She is wearing a A tignon (also spelled and pronounced tiyon) a type of headscarf, a large piece of material tied or wrapped around the head to form a kind of turban that resembles the West African gélé. It was worn by Creole women in Louisiana beginning in the Spanish colonial period. 


This headdress was the result of sumptuary laws passed in 1785 under the administration of Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró. Called the tignon laws, they prescribed and enforced appropriate public dress for female gens de couleur in colonial society. At this time in Louisiana history, women of color vied with white women in beauty, dress and manners. Many of them had become the placées (openly kept mistresses) of white, French, and Spanish Creole men. This incurred the jealousy and anger of their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and fiancées. One complaint was that white men pursuing flirtations or liaisons sometimes mistook upper-class white women for light-skinned mixed-race women and accosted them in an improper manner.

To prevent this, Governor Miró decreed that women of color and black women, slave or free, should cover their hair and heads with a knotted headdress and refrain from "excessive attention to dress" to maintain class distinctions. But the women who were targets of this decree were inventive and imaginative. They decorated tignons with their jewels and ribbons, and used the finest available materials to wrap their hair. In other words, "they effectively re-interpreted the law without technically breaking the law"--and they continued to be pursued by men.


The mix-race Creole of color in the painting is holding a palmetto fan and sells her delectable Creole Sweets on a 18th century Early Louisiana Cabriole leg mahogany table. This style of 18th century Louis XV table would have been out of fashion by the 1830's but in today's dollars worth a lot more then most of the furniture fashionable in the 1830's. In front of the steps a girl shows off her Creole Sweet  next to a French olive jar planted with a lemon tree.  


  1. Andrew, I love everything about this painting. Marshel

  2. Thanks Marshel. My paintings have been getting better and better now that I have been painting every day.

  3. Dear Mr. Hopkins, I was doing some research on 19th Century New Orleans Creole culture and came across your blog. Your paintings are so wonderful. I hope you can have the recognition you deserve for your work. It is superb. Thank you for posting pics of them here. Best regards.

  4. Thanks Marshel and Kathryn Johnson for your nice comment.