The French Quarter offers many ways to explore the history and culture of Louisiana, including guided tours and fine meals. Recently however, a new exhibit space has been quietly showcasing that story through a one-of-a-kind art collection.
The Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art is part of the Historic New Orleans Collection, the long-serving museum, research center and publisher. Small and easy to miss amid the bustle of the upper French Quarter, it’s an intimate, contemplative space to experience a wide diversity of visual art spanning many generations and styles.
“You can slice history many different ways and the art history of Louisiana offers a lot of material to help us understand the people and the culture here, from the landscapes and architecture to the portraits of individuals,” says John Lawrence, the collection’s director of museum programs. “It’s all part of our cultural mix, but while we’re known for music and food and architectural qualities, sometimes the many important works of visual art created here get overlooked.”
They have not been overlooked by the gallery’s namesake, however. Laura Simon Nelson has collected Louisiana art for most of her adult life and has been systematically transferring these works to the collection since 1995. At some 350 pieces altogether, it’s the largest single donation of visual art ever received by the collection. The new gallery, housed in the collection’s recently restored Perilliat House property, displays a rotating exhibition of examples from this immense gift, as well as other works.
Visitors may recognize sites and scenes they just strolled past – artists in Jackson Square, an antique shop window and views of Bourbon Street when the French Opera House still stood. Works from artists such as Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans, Josephine Marien Crawford, Ellsworth Woodward and William Woodward are all part of the collection.
“It was designed as a dedicated showcase of Louisiana’s art within our mission as a history institution,” Lawrence says of the gallery. “When you come in off the sidewalk, it’s like transitioning into this world of art, the art of Louisiana. Over the years we hope people will be inspired and be surprised by what they discover here.”
The Laura Simon Nelson Galleries are located at 400 Chartres St. Admission is free. For hours and more information, visit hnoc.org.