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Julien Hudson, Portrait of a Young Woman in White (1840)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Portrait of a Young Woman in White (1840) by Julien Hudson.

About the Work

Title : Portrait of a Young Woman in White
Artist : Julien Hudson
Year : 1840
Medium : Mixture of oil and resin on canvas
Dimensions : 73 × 60.3 cm (28 3/4 × 23 3/4 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Who is the Young Woman in White?

Julien Hudson was a well celebrated painter even in his own lifetime. Of African heritage, Hudson had settled in the United States.

The sitter of Hudson’s artwork is unknown to this day. A woman of colour, the lady in white is shown against an open landscape with trees. She’s dawning a white lace gown with bell sleeves. She holds a flower in her right hand and a delicate necklace adorns her neck. Her tightly tied hair knot allows the viewers a glance at her flower-like earrings.

Hudson’s attention to detail is evident through the depicted attire of his sitter. The lady’s expression is fairly stoic – not giving away any emotions. The unknown identity of the sitter and questions as to why Hudson chose to paint her, add an air of mystery to the work.

As is highlighted by the Harvard Art Museum’s digital catalogue, many questions surround this painting :

“Who exactly is this young woman, and what occasion—what life change or major event—prompted Hudson to commemorate her in this way? What is her background, and what sort of future unfolded for her in the years after this work was made, as New Orleans marched into the Civil War?”

Other Details

Julien Hudson’s Portrait of a Young Woman in White is housed in the Harvard Art Museums’ collection Room 2200 of European and American Art, 17th–19th century. It is part of the museum’s collection of The Emergence of Romanticism in Early Nineteenth-Century France.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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