IT IS A PLACE that often seems unable to make up its mind whether it will be earth or water, and so it compromises. The result is that much of moist lower Louisiana belongs to neither element. The line of demarcation is vague and forever shifting. The distinction between degrees of well-soaked ground is academic except to one who steps upon what looks like soil but finds it is something less.
While American landscape painting essentially begins around 1825 with Thomas Cole and other artists of the Hudson River School who celebrated the vastness of this developing nation in canvases describing the drama and grandeur of the land, the earliest Louisiana landscapes largely were intimate documentary works with horizontal formats. French artists Charles Alexander LeSeuer, Toussaint Francois Bigot, and Charles Lesseps and engineers Marie Hyacinthe Laclotte and Adrien Marie Persac recorded the land and architecture. In his representation of the "Battle of New Orleans" (1815), Laclotte documented battle positions placed within the context of the landscape of St. Bernard Parish, in what now is called Chalmette Battlefield. Persac delineated numerous plantations and other architectural structures in his landscape settings, often with collaged paper human figures and animals.
In "Louisiana Indians Walking Along a Bayou" (1847), Alfred Boisseau produced one of the earliest truly accomplished works placing Native Americans within their natural habitat, simply walking on a pathway beside a lush bayou. Boisseau exhibited the painting, which documents the Indians' dress, weapons, and familial roles, at the Paris Salon of 1848. His fully developed painting contrasts with Francois Bernard's oil sketch (c. 1860) of a Mandeville Indian encampment nestled beneath a grove of trees arranged horizontally across the picture plane, with glimpses of sky and a suggestion of water through the trees.
From 1857-61, pioneer cameraman Jay Dearborn Edwards made the first known paper photographs of New Orleans and the surrounding landscape. Others used photo images to assist in their studio work, including Richard Clague, George David Coulon, and Charles Giroux. Clague, who established the Louisiana landscape tradition, uniquely was positioned in Paris after the Revolution of 1848 when the established art academies and the public appreciated pure landscape painting without narrative and historical subjects. Clague became influenced by the...