Artist and collector Andrew Lamar Hopkins’ passion for antiques and art is on display in his French Quarter abode in New Orleans
At a Glance
Andrew Lamar Hopkins
Original hardwood cypress floors, French doors and transoms, spacious wraparound veranda with original ironwork, international mix of art and antiques.
Artist and collector Andrew Lamar Hopkins lived in Tremé when he decided to rent a light-filled French Quarter apartment as a studio for painting. It didn’t hurt that the historic 19th-century building has a huge wraparound balcony overlooking the French Market, and that it dates to Hopkins’ favorite era of fine and decorative arts.
“The thing that drew me to the space is the light,” says Hopkins, who planned to continue living in Tremé, but quickly had a change of heart as he filled his second address with the beautiful antiques and art he’s collected since his teen years. “My collection took over. And I like being able to get out of bed and paint.”
Both Hopkins’ French Quarter and Tremé abodes are brimming with Old Paris porcelain, historic portraits, antique furnishings and other finds — mostly dating from the late 18th century to the mid 19th-century — as well as his own paintings, and both are featured in the new book, “The New Antiquarians: At Home with Young Collectors,” by Michael Diaz-Griffith, published in June. In the last few years, Hopkins’ faux-naif, period-accurate paintings of 19th-century Creole interiors exploded onto the international art scene with exhibitions in New York and Paris and articles in a host of publications including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Hopkins is the first living African American artist to have a solo exhibition in the Cabildo. He has a following of thousands on Instagram and his works sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Yet for Hopkins, collecting period pieces is as much of an art as putting brush to canvas. Whether purchased at a Paris flea market or discovered locally, every item has a story, and Hopkins, who considers himself the custodian of his treasures until they are passed on, loves sharing their details.
Hopkins’ journey as an antiquarian began while growing up in Mobile, Alabama where his grandmother and mother were occasionally gifted with “hand-me-down antiques” by the families they worked for and where Hopkins himself befriended owners of antique stores to learn about their wares.
“I always gravitated toward something old and toward architecture,” he says.
The money he earned working in antique shops went toward small purchases such as vases, often with a chip or a tiny flaw that lowered the price. Over time, those modest acquisitions gave way to larger, more important ones and to the wealth of knowledge Hopkins has today.
His fascination with ancestry is evident in the profusion of portraits that surround him. Among the many portraits hung gallery-style in the apartment, are rare wax miniatures (known for the lifelike quality that the wax gives to the subject’s skin), an important painting of a white Creole boy by 19th-century French painter Jean Joseph Vaudechamp, who regularly visited New Orleans in the 1830s, and a large portrait of a free woman of color found in France. A portrait of a bonneted French woman circa 1840, whom Hopkins calls French Aunt Pitty Pat, hangs above the casement opening leading into the salon. A cache of daguerreotypes housed inside tarnished velvet-lined cases is displayed near the kitchen.
“Instant ancestry,” he says, using the term that a friend gave the many faces on his walls and tabletops, as he examines a daguerreotype.
Hopkins has no need of inventing ancestry. His own Creole ancestry dates back to a Frenchman named Nicolas Baudin, who obtained a Louisiana land grant in 1710. The kinship that he feels toward the relics in his apartment is more about his powerful connection to the past than the DNA of those depicted in the portraits. The identities of some are known, others are not.
The more-is-more 19th-century salon atmosphere of Hopkins’ French Quarter home also owes to the plentiful collection of Old Paris porcelains (a testament to Hopkins’ love of France, which he visits every chance he gets), to the variety of antiques, and to the lovely vignettes he creates. The oldest piece, an English skeleton clock, dates from 1680. There is a tapestry chair from 1715, an 18th-century buffet used as a bar, a cage-like panetiere, a dough boy and a wooden chest for chilling champagne picked up at an estate sale just a week earlier. Here and there, a cheeky present-day curio such as a risqué corkscrew, is thrown in for fun.
Refreshingly, Hopkins, a true connoisseur of antiques, enjoys his possessions on a daily basis. He entertains weekly and generously shares the contents of his world with his guests. Over lemonade in crystal stemware and ladyfinger shaped cheese straws from his home state of Alabama, he surveys the well-suited pairing of 1830s architecture and antique artifacts.
“I love Creole architecture and I think my things look beautiful here,” he says.