Jean Joseph Vaudechamp (aka J.J. Vaudechamp)
Portrait of a Woman
Northern Europe, French
32 1/8 in. x 25 5/8 in. (81.6 cm x 65.09 cm)
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Association Purchase
This portrait of a Creole woman in deepest mourning is typical of J. J. Vaudechamp’s New Orleans paintings in all aspects except the attire and attitude of the subject. It is the only portrait of a woman dressed entirely in black that is documented in William Keyse Rudolph’s catalogue raisonee of the artist's work. Most of Vaudechamp’s female subjects wear white collars, shawls, or bonnets, many of which are elaborate.
The subject’s sorrowful eyes and wistful smile are appropriate for a mourning portrait, an enduring expression of grief that in time came to memorialize the mourning more than the mourned. Although there is no documentary evidence to prove conclusively that this is a mourning portrait, the subject’s age, expression, and attire fit the prescribed parameters that were well known in the polite society that patronized Vaudechamp. Granted, many older women were often in mourning. Childhood mortality was high and epidemics were frequent in the Louisiana lowlands. Indeed, two Asiatic cholera and two yellow fever epidemics killed 10,000 people—nearly a third of the population—in New Orleans between October 1832 and June 1833, just prior to the date ascribed to this portrait.