Noel Rockmore (1928-1995) Preservation Hall Portraits
Noel Montgomery Davis was born in New York City in 1928 to Floyd Davis, an illustrator, and Gladys Rockmore Davis, a painter. Although a child prodigy on the violin, Rockmore had an affinity for the visual arts and was largely self-taught, beginning to paint at the age of seven. After much difficulty in school, Rockmore graduated in 1947 and began painting full time; his earliest works are from New York and from Mexico, where he traveled in the late 1940s and early 1950s. After gaining a major patron, and participating in group exhibitions in such illustrious institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, Rockmore traveled to New Orleans for the first time and began painting the French Quarter and its inhabitants.
In 1959 Noel Davis legally changed his name to his mother’s maiden name, Rockmore. This time period also marked a shift toward Rockmore’s mature style, in which he accepted that he “need only to record what actually existed to convey the moods he wished to express in his art.” This manner of painting led to the somberness of the Preservation Hall series, begun in 1963, in which Rockmore created over 300 oil portraits and over 500 acrylic works of jazz musicians, often posed in muted colors and solemn poses. The series was commissioned by E.L. “Larry” Borenstein, an art dealer who is considered the “father” of Preservation Hall, to document the musicians who performed nightly in the club. Rockmore set up a studio above Preservation Hall where he would paint portraits of the musicians who visited him during the day. At night, Rockmore would be in the audience and would paint quick portrait sketches which convey much of the energy present in the room. The series was featured in a book published by the LSU Press in 1968.
Once the Preservation Hall series was complete, Rockmore traveled back and forth between New York and New Orleans throughout the 1970s and 80s, creating many different series, including a Civil War series, an Ancient Egyptian series, and an Immigration series. After his death in 1995, he gained posthumous recognition with a retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1998.
Portrait of a Eureka Brass Band Member Albert Warner, 1963
Oil on masonite, signed and dated upper left, 12 x 19 in., framed.
Chicken Henry, 1963
Ink on paper, signed and dated upper left, 25 3/4 x 20 in., framed.
Note: Borenstein inventory paperwork en verso.
George Lewis, 1963
Oil on canvas, 42 x 33 1/2 in.
Sweet Emma and Louis Cottrell, 1963
Oil on board, signed and dated upper left, sight 15 1/4 x 21 1/4 in.
Kid Thomas Singing “Milk Cow Blues,” 1970
Oil on masonite, signed, titled, dated and inscribed along the top, 23 3/4 x 16 in.
Percy Humphrey, 1963
Oil on masonite, signed and dated lower left, 12 x 20 in.
Cie Frazier, 1964
Oil on masonite, 43 1/2 x 33 1/2 in.