Black models: from Géricault to Matisse

Last week I travelled to Paris to see the exhibition Black models in Musée d’Orsay (and to do research for the project I am working on)

The museum has always attracted a large audience, but now it seems even busier than normal on a Tuesday morning.


About the exhibition Black models: President of Musées d’Orsay and l’Orangerie, Laurence des Cars:

‘This exhibition, the first of its kind in France, seeks to look at the unspoken in art history: the importance of black models who had crossed paths with artists and who, is so doing contributed to the elaboration of their work. The goal is to give a name, a story to these neglected figures from modernist history by mirroring art history with anecdotes of ideas, sensibilities and depictions. To better understand the subject, nearly two centuries have been reviewed, the timeframe immediately following the French Revolution up until the time between the two World Wars.’ …

‘The intention is not to create an exhibition on the representations of black peoples as a social group but more to raise the question of ‘model’, which can be understood as both, the model represented by the artist and as the bearer of values. The exhibition does not, by any means, attempt to answer the question by any definitive manner. This is a premilinary reading, which I hope will open new avenues and will from this point in time contribute to the repubtation of certain works. Furthermore, in so doing keep the vestige of the initial title, and seek to remove them from a ‘racialized’ vision from the 19th century. ‘

A large group of people was involved in the choices of the works and the realization of this exhibition. Curators of the exhibition: Cécile Debray, Stéphanie Guégan, Denise Murrell and Isolde Pludemacher. Comité scientifue: David Bindman, Anne Higonnet, Anne Lafont and Pap Ndiaye. Design: Joris Lipsch, Studio Matters/ The Cloud Collective.

For me the biggest surprise were the photographes by Nadar and others.

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A few overviews of the exhibition:

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In the indroduction of the exhibition:

‘Focused on three key period – the abolition of slavery (1794 -1848), the era of New Painting (Manet, Bazille, Degas, Cézanne) and the early 20th century avant-gardes this exhibition offers a new perspective on a topic which had been disregarded for too long: the major contribution of black people and personalities to art history. ‘


‘The titles of works of art are part of a historical heritage. Many old titles use dated ethnic classifications such as ‘negro’, ‘mulatto’, câpresse’, which were current in the 19th and early 20the centuries, but can no longer be used today. Most titles do not reveal anything about the identity of the models. 

Thanks to research carried out for this exhibition, we succeeded in identifying some of the models hence our suggesting, within the framework of this show, new titles mentioning the name of the model where it is known. Some works will therefore be exhibited with both this new title and the original one which recalls the historical statement. ‘

Black Models: Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Portait de Madeleine. before"Portrait D'une Negresse
Black Models: Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Portait de Madeleine. Before ‘Portrait D’une Negresse

More impressions:


Outside a work by Glenn Ligon


And more


About me:

In 2008 I was guest curator of the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. Important advisors: Elizabeth McGrath (Rubens and colleagues, Warburg institute Image of the Black in Western Art collection), Carl Haarnack (slavery in books), Elmer Kolfin (slavery in prints and paintings) en Adi Martis (contemporary art). Gary Schwartz made his research for The Image of the Black in Western Art available to me.

Black beautiful Rubens to Dumas cover
Black beautiful Rubens to Dumas cover

In 2014 my essay ‘Painted Blacks and Radical Imagery in the Netherlands (1900-1940)’ was published in The Image of the Black in Western Art Volume V (I). (ed. David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates jr.)

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In 2017 I published a book about the black servants at the Court of the Royal Van Oranje family. More than a thousand documents have been found about their lives. (only in Dutch)

Cupido en Sideron Cover 30-8-2017

All photos on this site are not intended for any commercial purpose. I have tried to trace all the rules and rights of all images. As far as I know, these images can be used in this way. If you ar a copyright holder and would like a piece of your work removed or the creditline changed then please do not hesitate to contact me.

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