Creole Retreat
Etching by H. H. Mitchell

Creole Retreat: New Orleans French Quarter Etching by H. H. Mitchell

7#8220;Creole Retreat,” etching by H. H. Mitchell. (The embossed fleur-de-lis Mitchells logo appears in this display only for purposes of image security.)

“Creole Retreat,” original etching by H. H. Mitchell depicting the courtyard at 612 Royal Street in New Orleans' French Quarter. Edition of 200, pressed by the artist from the etched copper plate onto Arches Cover paper. Dated 1983 and signed in the plate. Each print titled, numbered, and signed in pencil by the artist. Plate size 9 x 12 inches. Deckle-edged paper size 11 x 15 inches. Unmatted, unframed, shipped in sturdy mailing tube.

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About the Scene

The grand Creole town house at 610-614 Royal Street was built by physician Raymond Devéze around 1812. In 1826 the house was bought by John Grymes, lawyer for the pirate Jean Lafitte. Grymes' wife was the widow of Louisiana's first governor William Charles Cole Claiborne. In 1839 François Bienvenu purchased the property. It remained in the hands of his descendants the Crawfords and sugar industrialist Henderson family until 1965. In the 1910s and 20s writer Lyle Saxon launched the New Orleans Renaissance and French Quarter Preservation movements (and fostered the Southern Literary Renaissance) from this location, which he rented and restored as a model for others, while using it as a literary salon (read excerpt from James W. Thomas, Lyle Saxon: A Critical Biography). The three-story house has two commercial storefronts at 610 and 614 Royal Street. Between them, a carriageway at 612 Royal Street leads to the spiral staircase accessing the two residential floors above, and the courtyard beyond.

The courtyard was originally flanked by utilitarian structures. On the left survives the original stable (first floor) with a two-story slave quarter above it. Other structures have come and gone, leaving their marks on the walls. A multistory faux-slave-quarter has recently appeared on the right side.

Author/photographer Stuart Lynn featured the courtyard as the introduction and first entry of his book New Orleans (1949, Hastings House, reprinted by Bonanza Books). The courtyard was then known as the Court of the Palm, and he described it as “. . . one of the most charming of all the courts.” (The giant palm tree which had filled and shaded the court was destroyed by Hurricane Betsy, September 1965.) Lynn also mentioned with admiration the chandelier, the flagstones, and the stone drainage troughs.

From the Artist

In the early 1970s the courtyard at 612 Royal Street was “Eden” for my wife Patricia and me. Our retail shop was in the former stable on the first floor of the slave quarter, and our apartment occupied the two floors above it.

When evening came and business activities within the building ceased, the front doors of the carriageway leading out onto Royal Street were closed, and the courtyard area became a quiet paradise. It was easy to imagine how it might have been in the past, when all the interior spaces were devoted to the original Devéze family's residential purposes – a Creole retreat, surely. When those doors were shut, our own retreat from the frenetic French Quarter was sublime. A window high on the wall of our top-floor bedroom could give us access again to sounds of the outside world. Late at night, we might open that window to hear the distant echo of trumpets from Bourbon Street clubs; the clip-clop of passing horses and carriages on Royal Street; and tones from boats on the Mississippi.

Planning the composition of this etching, I wanted to emphasize the enclosed, protective feeling of the interior space created by the flagstone floor; the high, rough, irregular brick wall; and the overhanging slave quarter balconies; all framed by the archway in the foreground. It is evident from the picture that daylight streams from above into the tall, narrow courtyard, and that the wrought-iron chandelier would provide light with imagination-teasing shadows at night.

That chandelier provided a strong architectural accent to the archway and courtyard, a “finishing touch.” So I made it the focal point of the etching.

– H. H. Mitchell

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