The little black woman in this portrait was a hundred years old when it was drawn. She has a striking hat, is seated in an armchair and is dressed in white especially for the occasion. Reaching the age of a hundred years is still an exceptional event today and cause for celebration and attention; in the early nineteenth century it was highly unusual and people collected pictures of centenarians. This drawing comes from the collection assembled by the historian and collector Adriaan van der Willigen.
The death of a centenarian also caused a stir in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Such deaths were generally reported in the newspapers, which sometimes included details of the sickbed. Susanna Dumion’s death was published in the paper, which is why her identity, place of birth and place of death, in 1818, are known. The Kunst en Letterbode reported: ‘Haarlem, On the 12th of November passed away here at the ripe old age of 105 years, Susanna Dumion, born in the Colony of Surinam.’ Her death certificate further records that Dumion lived in Kleine Houtstraat, that she had no profession and was unmarried. To date no further information regarding her has been uncovered.
The artist who produced this portrait is unknown. Around 1800 portraits of centenarians had become a Haarlem genre; the artists who specialised in these were Taco Jelgersma 1702 –1795, Cornelis van Noorde 1731 –1795, Wybrand Hendriks 1744 –1831, Hermanus van Brussels 1763 –1815, Hendrik Schwegman 1761 –1816 and Abraham Vallenduuk 1723? –1788?
Esther Schreuder (from the Black is beautiful, Rubens to Dumas catalogue 2008)
See her history (published in 2015) here (In Dutch)
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