Paul Ninas (1903–1964) was one of the South’s pioneer modernists, influencing the development of the modern art scene in New Orleans from the 1930s through the 1960s. This drawing of a palm-filled island depicts the Caribbean, Ninas’ home for a brief time before settling in Louisiana.
Missouri-born Ninas began studying engineering at the University of Nebraska; his desire to travel led him to Turkey, where he continued his studies. In his spare time, he roamed across Europe, North Africa, and the Near East; yet, within a year, he abandoned his engineering studies in favor of a newfound passion for art. This passion led him to Vienna, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1925. Continuing his studies in Paris, he settled in the Montparnasse neighborhood. There, he socialized with fellow American expatriates such as Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, and Isadora Duncan, who sponsored his first solo show in 1926.
Again restless, Ninas moved to the West Indies and purchased a coconut and lime plantation. He was inspired by the native vistas and the simplified lifestyle on the island. He soon adopted an artistic style reminiscent of Matisse and Gauguin and began creating scenes intense with color and exaggerated tropical landscapes. While settling the affairs of his late father in 1932, Ninas traveled with a friend to New Orleans and never left. Something about the city captivated him as no other place had. Ninas remained there for the rest of his life.
Paul Ninas, Untitled (Coconut Palm), c. 1930. Oil on canvas, 23 x 17 inches. Purchased through the Alma Lee, Norman and Cary Saurage Fund of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation in honor of Alma Lee and H.N. Saurage Jr. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 2000.001.003