Jan Wiegers 1893 –1959 Bal Nègre 1930 Wax paint on canvas, 87 x 60 cm Groninger Museum Collection, on long-term loan from Stichting De Ploeg,
This painting by Jan Wiegers shows two couples dancing intimately on the dance floor. Their mixed race instantly gives the work an urban feel, for such sights were only to be seen in the 1920s and 1930s in major modern cities. The title of the picture betrays the city in which this scene is set, Paris.
Wiegers had just been in the French capital with his colleague Hendrik Werkman and they had probably visited Bal Nègre, the Antillean bar where Africans and African Americans danced with French ladies. By this time avant-garde ladies considered it highly modern to dance with a black man, while a relationship with such a man was also an option. Black music, black form, black dance, black history and black people were hot in Paris, Amsterdam and other European cities.
This work appears to develop both Wieger’s visit to Paris and the poster which he designed in 1925 for Le Boeuf sur le Toit, the ballet composed by Darius Milhaud in 1919 and staged in Groningen by the composer Daniël Ruynemann.
Milhaud was known as a composer who combined African American Music styles with classical Europe an music.
The ballet’s story is set in a bar and the roles include a ‘negro boxer’, a ‘negro playing billiards’, a red-haired lady and a lady with a considerable decolleté.
Wiegers’ poster for the production showed two white ladies dressed for going out; in the background are three gentlemen, one red, the other two dark blue. Five years later, when Wiegers painted Bal Nègre, he reused the motif of two white ladies whom he now combined with two men, one red-brown, the other black.
Wiegers’ love of dance scenes was inspired by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who was fascinated by country dancing, primitive dances and even the ordinary dance halls in the Swiss city of Davos. Wiegers met Kirchner in Davos in the early 1920s and was introduced by him to new techniques, new subjects and new principles whose origins lay in such fields as the art of the ‘primitives’.
An important technique which Wiegers adopted from Kirchner was the use of wax paint, which gave paintings a more matt finish that brought out colour planes to greater advantage.In Bal Nègre these colour planes have been pushed to the extreme, engendering a strong affinity with the work of decorative French expressionists and that of Hendrik Werkman, in whose company Wiegers had just been in Paris.
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From the Black is beautiful, Rubens to Dumas exh. cat (2008) see also >Bal Negre by Raedecker<