Unknown Sitters
April 5, 2024 to October 6, 2024
Tuesday–Saturday, 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
520 Royal Street, Tricentennial Wing, 1st Floor
Free ticketed admission


About the Exhibition

The exhibition Unknown Sitters will display portraits from The Historic New Orleans Collection’s holdings of people who are unidentified in the historical record. The sitters’ identities were lost or erased from history for a variety of reasons. When family estates were sold, beloved portraits were divorced from their historical narratives. Sometimes artists did not record the name of sitters, particularly when the sitter was a paid model.

Despite the many unknowns, these works of art have much to share. The sitters’ clothing and surroundings, written inscriptions and signatures, and the artists’ biographies allow curators to craft basic narratives of the lives and times of the people depicted. When grouped together, these works reflect the field of portraiture in New Orleans art history and illuminate the gaps and biases in the historical record. Portraits of children, the elderly, women, and people of color were more likely to lose their identities than those of white men. Also, when artists, collectors, and museum curators assigned titles to portraits of unknown sitters of color, they often emphasized race. In this exhibition, we have reworded titles that prioritized race to focus on the unique individuals portrayed.

With Unknown Sitters, we will explore the power of imagination beyond the traditional sphere of historical inquiry and welcome a wider group of thinkers and storytellers to engage with historical portraiture. These portraits of mystery stand in for the lives not represented in history and ask us all to remember—and to imagine.

Guided Tour

Unknown Sitters: Bring Your Imagination

Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11:30 a.m., Sundays at 12:30 p.m.
520 Royal Street, 1st Floor
Admission $5, free for members
Advance registration encouraged

Drawn from the holdings of HNOC, the subjects of the 26 portraits in the exhibition Unknown Sitters are unidentified in the historical record. On this 30-minute tour, visitors will learn about the process of analyzing historical portraits and then connect the imagined stories of the Unknown Sitters to their own.



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