ART : The black model from Géricault to Picasso

A very innovative project and a great international first at the ACTe Memorial, this exhibition has already had a first stop in New York at the Wallach Art Gallery of Columbia University and a second stop in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay. It will be held in Pointe-à-Pitre from September to December 2019 and shows, through 110 works, the representation of black figures in the fine arts over a period of more than two centuries.

2. Delacroix Ferdinand Victor Eugène Étude d’après le modèle Aspasie, oil on canvas, circa 1824-1828, © Musée Fabre de Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole, photograph Frédéric Jaulmes.


Going well beyond the artistic dimension, this exhibition looks at the aesthetic, political, social and racial issues, but also at the imaginary that these representations have generated over the decades. It deals with a great unspoken, unseen part of art history, which is the relationship between the
modern artists with black models. A dialogue between the artist who paints, sculpts or photographs and his subject who poses for him. The artists are engaged with these figures who pose, often in the greatest silence, at a time when it is difficult to recognize their own identity.

Géricault, Delacroix, Carpeaux, Matisse, Cézanne, Rousseau and Gauguin, committed artists who, out of militancy, denounced the slave trade and fought, brushes in hand, to rehabilitate their human conditions.
Although the abolition of slavery was declared in 1794, it would be half a century before society really integrated this new condition as a reality.

… is the result of a fruitful collaboration on both sides of the Atlantic between Denise Murrell, PhD, a Ford Foundation postdoctoral researcher at the Wallach Art Gallery in New York and the Musée d’Orsay. Her thesis, Seeing Laure: Race and Modernity from Manet’s “Olympia” to Matisse, Bearden and Beyond, which she defended in 2013 at Columbia University, was the basis for a whole reflection.

Who knew, before this exhibition, that the famous maid in Manet’s painting “Olympia”, a painting that caused a scandal in 1865, was named Laure? Who remembered that one of Matisse’s favorite models, “The Haitian dancer”, was named Carmen? Who remembered that Géricault’s model, overlooking the famous painting “Raft of the Medusa” was black? Coming from the former colony of Santo Domingo, which later became Haiti, he embodies this victorious figurehead, conqueror and optimist, who stands out from the other prostrate shipwrecked people. His first name? Joseph.




Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux Pourquoi naître esclave ?, after 1875, polychrome plaster ©Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Reims, photograph C Devleeschauwer.


Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Jeune Noir à l’épée, , oil on canvas, 1848-1849, © Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

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