As he lay dying from yellow fever in New Orleans in April 1851, Aimable Desire Lansot dictated a last will and testament in the presence of several witnesses. The notary in attendance recorded that though sick in body, Lansot was sound in spirit and mind. It is from this account that the broad outlines of the artist’s life, many of the details of which had been previously obscured by a dearth of extant work and misinformation perpetuated by early antiquarian accounts, can be constructed. Lansot was born in Orval in the Normandy region of France. An only child whose father died at an early age, Lansot himself never married and had no descendants. While the actual date of his arrival in New Orleans is not confirmed, the artist’s first advertisement appeared in the New Orleans Bee, a French language newspaper, in May of 1834. In that bulletin, Lansot announced his services as a painter of portraits and miniatures, as well as an art restorer working from a studio he shared with the renowned French portraitist Jean-Joseph Vaudechamp.
Vaudechamp, the elder and more established artist of the two, had a clear influence on his countryman. Both were among a number of portrait artists who depicted members of the Creole caste as strikingly handsome men and beautiful women living in the twilight years of their ascendancy in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Like many of Vaudechamp’s works, this portrait of an unidentified gentleman exudes an immediacy of presence, achieved by the sitter’s riveting gaze and subtle contrapposto pose. The subject holds a rolled document whose edges hint at the calligraphic delineations of a map edge. In another compositional format favored by Vaudechamp, his clear visage is set against a dark and murky background.
From his earliest known days in New Orleans until 1846, Lansot followed a regular routine, spending his summers in France and the balance of the year in his adopted hometown. A December 1835 report in the local newspaper announced that the artist had opened a drawing school in his studio “for the study of the human head and of landscapes. Certain historical studies credit Lansot with being among the first New Orleans artisans to make daguerreotypes using French equipment. The inventory of the artist’s estate, which listed a daguerreotype camera, a large supply of chemicals, gilt cases and other paraphernalia associated with the process, would support these accounts. Likewise, a 1939 advertisement promoting his services “in taking likenesses of the dead” provides additional evidence. Finally, in one of his last advertisements, Lansot is listed as a daguerreotypist.
After 1846, Lansot’s work as an artist and photographer seems to have waned, and his death certificate noted his occupation as merchant. His paintings are quite rare outside public collections in New Orleans. Though he left behind an estate of considerable value, Lansot’s burial location remains to be found.