Parterre “Pleasure Garden” Watercolor, 1844


Architectural drawings are by definition functional, rather than merely artistic, and these functions have changed over the centuries. In nineteenth century Louisiana, Napoleonic Law required detailed documents for all property transactions, which is why this drawing exists among the thousands that remain in the New Orleans Notarial Archive.  Sadly, these remarkable records are in jeopardy, as the large-format ink and watercolor originals dating as far back as 1825 have deteriorated over time.  Architectural Historians Roulhac Toledano and Mary Louise Christovitch have studied and selected several hundred of them for their upcoming book on the garden legacy of New Orleans. The images themselves are the primary focus of this story, as they provide an unusually detailed record of architecture and landscape design in the Gulf South.

In order to illustrate this fascinating story, the authors have asked me to digitally restore and enhance many of the images, both for clarity and for aesthetics. I’m sharing some examples from this ongoing research and graphics project because they are both beautiful and fascinating.  Shown here is the “Plan du Rocher de Ste Hélène” dating from 1844. It shows a French “jardin de plaisir” or pleasure garden on a site in Tremé.  While the primary purpose of these illustrations was legal, many artists included curious details that add to the charm and historic value of the documents.  Restoring the images requires close examination, of course, and we’ve been delighted to discover details that were not previously visible to the authors.

I’m personally curious about the many artists (surveyors, architects and draftsmen) who created the drawings. Where were they trained? How did they acquire enormous sheets of watercolor paper in the middle  of nineteenth century Louisiana? Why did they choose to highlight certain details? Many of these questions are discussed in the book, which I look forward to reading when it is completed later this year. In the meantime, I’ll be selecting more examples of these drawings to share.

Stay tuned for more updates about this project!