And that’s the idea behind the new exhibit, “Hunt Slonem: Antebullum: Pop!,” which runs through Aug. 5 in the museum’s main galleries.
“The show is designed to make you feel like you’re walking through a house,” says museum Executive Director Daniel Stetson. “You start in the entryway with Hunt’s bunny wallpaper, then go into the dining room, then the parlor with the antique furniture covered in fabric designs and finally retire in the boudoir.”
A few pieces of the furniture belong to Slonem with the majority of antique furniture and art on loan from M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans.
And though all of the contemporary paintings were painted by Slonem, none belongs to him.
“They’re all on loan from private collectors,” Slonem says. “None of these paintings have ever been exhibited before, so this is a premiere of sorts — a premiere of these paintings, and a premiere of this kind of exhibition.”
Slonem calls the show a survey of his work, showing his different styles and subjects, from the simplicity of his bunnies to the magic of his birds and butterflies to his love of such pop culture figures as Alfred Hitchcock and Rudolph Valentino to his spiritual connections with Abraham Lincoln and the Countess Xacha Obrenovitch.
A large portrait of the countess dominates the parlor gallery, and rightly so. Slonem credits her with the prediction that he would purchase two Louisiana plantations — Albania in Jeanerette and Lakeside in Batchelor.
Perhaps without that prediction, there would be no “Antebellum Pop!” exhibition.
“This state has the most fabulous old houses,” Slonem says. “They have a certain smell — cigarettes, bourbon and mildew in the ceilings — that just sends chills down my spine. I feel like I have a mission to bring back the magnificence that’s been tarnished by lack of time and lack of understanding.”
Slonem bought and restored Albania plantation in 2001, then Lakeside in 2005. He spends about five days a month at each of the plantations.
The rest of the time, he lives and works in his New York apartment, surrounded by the birds that serve as inspiration for his impressionistic bird paintings. He also owns an old mansion in upstate New York and an armory in Pennsylvania, but there’s something special about his Louisiana homes, connecting him to a state he loves.
The artist earned his bachelor of arts degree in painting and history from Tulane University, then returned to New Orleans to show his work at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival before purchasing his residences.
Slonem showed slides and gave the history of his homes to some 300 of the LSU museum patrons at the show’s opening, explaining how Albania was built by Charles Francois Grevenberg between 1837 and 1842. The house and its surrounding 6,500 acres were sold to Samuel and Isaac Delgado in 1885.
Isaac Delgado later founded the Delgado Museum of Art — now New Orleans Museum of Art — where Slonem’s work is part of the permanent collection.
Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson arranged for the Lakeside property to be given to the Marquis de La Fayette, who built the pink mansion. Hollywood has used both of Slonem’s houses as film locations.
But, to him, they’re home, where the rooms are filled with his personality through his collection of 18th and 19th paintings and antiques mixed with his own neo-impressionistic paintings.
Which is what visitors experience upon walking into the exhibition.
Guest curator Sarah Clunis brought it all together in the main galleries to reflect Slonem’s personality and how he sees the world through his signature “antebellum pop” style.
“I’ve been wanting to do this show for a good 10 to 12 years now,” Slonem says. “I did a show at the Ogden Museum in New Orleans maybe 14 years ago that incorporated furniture into the galleries.”
But the LSU show is different, showcasing Slonem’s artwork along with his wallpaper and fabric designs and bringing everything together to show visitors how the artist lives.
“I love what they did with this show,” Slonem says. “It’s what I envisioned.”
Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.