Haitian Art Hopkins
 



Ned Hopkins's Collection of Haitian Art

 

In July 1972 my companion and I suddenly found ourselves with time for a vacation. Since our passports had expired, our choice of destinations outside the United States was limited. The Caribbean was among the possibilities. She wanted to relax at a beach resort; I wanted to visit a place that held some historical interest. We compromised on Guadeloupe and Haïti.

Prior to arriving in Port-au-Prince I read up on Haïti. Though my familiarity with painting was then limited to an undergraduate 'art appreciation' course and visits to museums in Europe, I was intrigued by accounts — in guidebooks — of the country's 'primitive' artists. Even before landing at François Duvalier International Airport, I had resolved to buy something if I found a work I liked.

I liked a lot. In the three galleries I visited, I liked eleven paintings well enough to buy and to haul back to New York City, our home at the time. Packed in jerry-built cardboard cases, the works accompanied us as excess baggage and arrived without incident.

On subsequent visits I returned with well over 100 paintings — similarly packed and carried as baggage — to New York and to airports near my homes in Albany, New York, Washington, D C, Miami, and San Francisco; only one was damaged in any way.

I decided, after that first visit, that I would specialize in Haïtian painting. It was a large enough world to have much variety, I reasoned, but small enough that I could collect works from most of its schools — an impossibility with, say, French or American art. That

 

its artists were relatively inexpensive was also a consideration, and not a small one.

Among the eleven I bought on my first trip, five remain among my favorites — works by Montas Antoine, Kesnel Franklin, Jacques-Enguerrand Gourgue, Louines Mentor, and Petion Savain. Though I visited Haïti two dozen more times after 1972, and bought paintings on each trip, I doubt the average quality of those purchases was greater than that of my initial buys — except when I picked up works I had commissioned from such masters as Rigaud Benoit, Philomé Obin, and Gourgue himself.

That first visit was memorable for two other reasons: an evening and dinner spent with the fine artist Nehemy Jean and an enduring friendship formed with a chauffeur-guide who, like so many of his countrymen, is now in the U S.

I have not, alas, been back to Haïti since 1990. Because I'd been accosted in a couple of incidents that could have ended very badly — and because the violence that has plagued the country since the overthrow of Jean-Claude ('Baby Doc') Duvalier in 1986 has often ended very badly indeed — I've stayed away from a country I had come to love.

I have, however, continued acquiring Haïtian paintings from galleries in the U S and the Caribbean, from other collectors, and — until his death in the late '90s — from a dealer who visited once a year. (Amazingly, he was on the first plane to land in San Francisco  following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.)
 

 
         
  Notes      
 

Each work on the artist pages is linked to an enlargement which may be seen by clicking on the painting.

A florette (_) next to the title of a painting indicates that a photograph of the artist appears alongside the enlargement of that work.

A star (H) next to an artist's name indicates that I commissioned one or more works from him. Those pieces are identified in my narrative.

The size of each work on an artist page is geared to its width,
at inches to pixels (e.g., 24 inches = 240 pixels) though the correlation is only approximate.

 

A title in 'quote marks' was supplied by the artist or a gallery owner, or is painted on the front or written on the back of the work.

Some of the photographs of paintings are bad. As time permits I will replace them.

Some of the the photographs of artists come from the websites of galleries, notably Macondo and Medalia. My thanks to all.

Vodou is also spelled vodun and — less justifiably — voodoo, voudon, etc. Most terms associated with the practice, or belief, have both Kréyol (Creole) and Frenchified forms: e.g., lwa/loa, ounfò/humfor, oungan/houngan. I use mostly the Kréyol versions.

 

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