Saturday, October 9, 2010

Marie Guillemine Benoist: Portrait of a Black Woman

Marie Guillemine Benoist: Portrait of a Black Woman 
(1800, oil on canvas 81x65cm, Louvre)

This is one of the very few black faces in the Louvre and, even more surprisingly, it was painted by a woman. It was exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1800 to considerable acclaim, although the critic Jean-Baptiste Boutard was shocked that ‘a white, pretty hand … had created such a horror’. The French revolution promised equality for women and slaves, but in the end didn’t deliver; this painting is a glimpse through a window that opened only briefly. (From the Guardian, on line) 

Hanging on one wall of the Musée du Louvre, in the company of the gargantuan machines by Jacques-Louis David, Eugène Delacroix, Théodore Géricault, and others, is an exquisitely crafted and modestly sized painting of a black woman. She is shown seated, half-draped, with her right breast bared to the viewer. She sports an intricately wrapped and crisply laundered headdress that appears similar in fabric to the garment she gathers closely against her body just below her breasts. She stares out at the viewer with an enigmatic expression. Although there are no background details that indicate precisely where the sitter is placed, certain details of her physical surroundings—namely, the ancien régime chair and luxurious cloth that drapes both it and her—suggest that she is in a well-to-do domestic space. Portrait d'une négresse (fig. 1) was painted in 1800 by Marie-Guilhelmine Benoist (born Marie-Guillemine Leroulx-Delaville) (1768-1826), a woman of aristocratic lineage who belonged to a small elite circle of professional women painters... (more at the link below)

Slavery is a Woman: "Race," Gender, and Visuality in Marie Benoist's Portrait d'une négresse (1800) by James Smalls

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