The Musée d’Orsay in Paris has just opened an exhibition entitled ‘Le modèle noir De Géricault à Matisse,’ which attempts to restore the identities and perspectives of black figures depicted on canvas but largely written out of history. This article from the Washington Post focuses on one artwork in the exhibition. The painting by Marie-Guillemine Benoist has hung in the Louvre for decades under the title ‘Portrait of a black woman.’ In the new exhibition, the subject of the painting is named – it is entitled ‘Portrait of Madeleine’ because it is a portrait of an emancipated, formerly enslaved woman from Guadeloupe who worked in the home of the artist’s brother-in-law. The exhibition addresses France’s role in the slave trade and the manifestation of the debate over slavery in the arts of the period.
While doing some background research on the indigenous people of St.Vincent, I came across a great online exhibition on the King’s College London website. “The Paradise of the World:” conflict and society in the Caribbean” was originally held at KCL in 2011, but is now available as an online exhibition. This is such a great way to share resources and information—I love seeing exhibitions migrate from the real world to the online arena so that researchers can make use of the content for years afterwards.
The exhibition drew largely upon the holdings of the historical library collection of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and explored the history of the Caribbean region from the sixteenth century to 1900. Because the exhibition is based on British documentation and literature, the exhibition clearly approaches the Caribbean form the perspective of British interaction with the region. The exhibition provides an overview of Britain’s relationship with Spain as it relates to the Caribbean, international rivalry, the sugar trade and revolts and revolution in Jamaica and Haiti. and the development of the sugar industry and trade. In relation to indigenous peoples in the Caribbean (which is how I stumbled across the exhibition), there is a very good overview of indigenous peoples of Guyana and St.Vincent as well as some material on Jacques Du Tetre’s interaction with indigenous people in the region and his writings. Finally, the exhibition covers emancipation, and nineteenth century Caribbean colonial life.
This exhibition would be very useful for introductory research on the Caribbean (particularly the British Caribbean), and it includes a number of primary sources such as books, artwork and documentation which are available online. Click here to go to the KCL exhibition.
I’m looking forward to seeing the National Gallery of Victoria’s Napoleon exhibition in Melbourne in a couple of weeks. I studied Napoleon earlier this year and while I had the chance to re-assess his actions and legacy, I’m not sure I really changed my mind about him. But I did realise just how much I had been brought up with the ‘English’ version of Napoleon.
I scoffed audibly during a lecture when I read Napoleon’s words “Is there any point on which I could be attacked and which a historian could not take up my defence? My intentions perhaps? He has evidence enough to clear me. My despotism? He can prove that dictatorship was absolutely necessary. Will it be said that I restricted freedom? He will be able to prove that licence, anarchy, and general disorder were still on our doorstep. Shall I be accused of having loved war too much? He will show that I was always on the defensive.” (From The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from his Written and Spoken Words, edited and translated by J.Christopher Herold (Columbia University Press, 1995)).
Always on the defensive?? But to put Napoleon’s early years in context, he was ‘installed’ at the point at which the Revolution was in danger of falling apart. France was surrounded by monarchies and Empires desperate to defeat the upstart revolutionary, ‘new’ nation. Napoleon fought the war to save the Revolution on many fronts. He succeeded in salvaging the Revolution. So initially he can perhaps justifiably claim to have been on the defensive. Unfortunately he went on to instal himself as Emperor and to sacrifice the lives of countless young men in his pointless push into Russia – it is for this military debacle that he is perhaps best known in England.
Napoleon was and remains a polarising figure. I look forward to seeing what the NGV makes of him.