Never Black and White: Representing Black Women in Revolutionary France
AbstractMy research focused on Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait d’une Femme Noire, exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1800. This remarkable picture of a free woman of African descent was painted in the decade between the first abolition of slavery in the French colonies in 1794 and Napoleon Bonaparte’s reinstatement of it in 1804. I addressed the question of what we can make of the existing visual and literary representations of black women in this period, and how these representations can be used to understand something of the kind of roles or experiences the women had in French society. In the absence of firsthand accounts of art and writing by black women, I have analyzed the conditions of their existence, ideologies that shaped their experiences, and a varying range of representations of them made by white artists and writers.
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