William Woodward (American/New Orleans, 1859-1939), "French Market", 1908, Raffaelli oil crayon on board, signed, dated, and inscribed "N.O." lower left, 14 1/2 in. x 18 3/4 in., framed. Provenance: Baldwin Family Collection; thence by descent. Note: Renowned for his masterpieces portraying French Quarter scenes, William Woodward has become one of the most valuable assets to those studying the history of New Orleans, allowing viewers of his paintings, prints, and drawings to see the city as it was over a century ago, preserving depictions of significant architectural works, many of which no longer exist. One such edifice is the Bazaar Market, built in 1870, a gabled building with an iconic pediment, frieze, and cupolas, which subsisted within the French Market complex along the Mississippi River. Described as one of the oldest and most important structures in the city of New Orleans, the French Market has a long and vivid history. The French Market, comprised of a group of markets each demarcated to sell a certain type of food or dry goods, changed locations several times within an area bordered by the modern day streets St. Ann, Barracks, Chartres, and the Mississippi River. Initially, the area along the levee was used by Native Americans of the Choctaw tribe for trading during the French Colonial period. While no structures were built during this period, it was a central location where French settlers and Choctaw Indians could meet to exchange goods. When Colonial Louisiana came under Spanish rule in 1763, the site was still used, and in 1779 the Spanish government decided to erect a building to provide shelter from the elements for both the people trading, as well as the merchandise being sold.
The vital importance of the markets to the New Orleans community can be seen throughout the history of the city as the market buildings were damaged or ruined by hurricanes and fires in the late 1700s and early 1800s, but always rebuilt immediately. The first permanent structure built, which still exists today, although greatly modified over the years, is the Halle des Boucheries, or Butcher’s Market, on Decatur Street between St. Ann and Dumaine Streets. Built in 1813, and with major renovations in the 1930s and the 1970s, it is now the location of the world famous Café du Monde coffee shop. When originally built, the Butcher’s Market housed stalls only for meat, which needed to stay on ice, while fruits and vegetables were sold outside the market and fish and seafood were sold along the river’s banks. A need for a vegetable market became apparent, and plans for the Halle des Legumes, were begun in 1823. Built on Decatur Street between St. Philip and Ursulines Streets, and completed in 1830, the Vegetable Market has also been extensively renovated over the years, but the original buildings still stand and are now used for commercial businesses. Several other parts of the market complex were established throughout the years, including the three original Red Stores buildings, erected in 1830, which can be seen in the background of the current lot; the Bazaar Market, built in 1870, upon whose iconic structure Woodward chose to focus for this work; and a Fruit Market, which was added to the Vegetable Market in 1871.
On August 20, 1869, a city ordinance was approved to allow bidding for “a contract for the erection of a bazaar market…on the vacant space bounded by the beef market, red stores, Peters street, and the levee.” From historic photographs, such as this exact view from 1890, taken by Georges Francois Mugnier (1855-1936) and printed by Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985), we can see that the position of the Bazaar Market is precisely as described in the ordinance – the streetcar tracks along North Peters Street to its north, and the Red Stores to its east, while the river would be to its south and the Butcher’s Market to its west. Other historically significant buildings on the opposite side of the streetcar tracks along Decatur Street – the Vegetable Market, Garic’s Bakery, Masich’s Grocery, and Central Grocery (which still operates at 923 Decatur today) can also be seen in alternate views. Perhaps the most distinctive building of the French Market at this time, the Bazaar Market was a natural choice for Woodward to focus upon, and at least one watercolor (sold in these rooms February 2013) and one other Raffaelli crayon picture (located in the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art) by Woodward of the same scene are known to exist.
After the observing the success of the French Market, the city government created a variety of markets throughout the city for the convenience of the growing population. At the market industry’s peak in 1911, the city operated 34 separate public markets, including the historic Poydras Market, another locale Woodward enjoyed painting. In addition to the wonderful pictures of market scenes produced by visual artists, many vibrant portrayals of the markets exist in literature, describing the busy nature of the shoppers, the variety of produce, meats, seafood, and dry goods, and the mixture of all the different cultures, races, and ethnicities coming together to form the demographics of the city in the late 18th and early 19th century. Woodward similarly captures the mood at the markets, portraying the banana vendors and shoppers on the right near the Bazaar Market and Red Store building, with mule-drawn carts in motion down the street.
These particular buildings no longer exist – dilapidated and greatly damaged by a hurricane in 1915, many of the 19th century structures were torn down and rebuilt in the 1930s under the Public Works Administration. A renovation in the 1970s significantly changed the style of the French Market buildings, as well as altering the footprint of the market complex. At this time, a replica of the Red Stores was erected, and still stands today. Although we have no such reproduction of the Bazaar Market, thanks to the artists and authors working at the turn of the 19th century, such as William Woodward, we are able to view historic images of the market buildings and imagine how life may have been for the people of New Orleans in the French Market at that time.
Ref.: Bragg, Jean Moore, and Dr. Susan Saward. “Painting the Town: The Woodward Brothers Come to New Orleans.” New Orleans: Jean Bragg Gallery, 2004; Bruce, Susan. “The History of New Orleans’ French Market.” B.A. thesis, Tulane University, 1979; Fraiser, Jim. “The French Quarter of New Orleans.” Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003; Hinckley, Robert. “William Woodward: American Impressionist.” New Orleans: MPress, 2009; Leovy, Henry J. and C. H. Luzenberg. “The Laws and General Ordinances of the City of New Orleans.” New Orleans: Simmons & Co., 1870; Reeves, Sally K. “Making Groceries: Public Markets and Corner Stores in Old New Orleans.” Gulf South Historical Review 16 (2000): 40-43; Stier, Emile V. and James B. Keeling. “A Treatise on the Famous French Market of New Orleans, Louisiana.” New Orleans: French Market Corporation, 1938.