Art and Revolution, Empire, and Race: France and Haiti from the 18th to the mid-19th century
Tuesday, Thursday: 5:00-6:30pm
This course will focus on the art precipitated by the intertwining French and Haitian Revolutions. How, we ask, did art contend with this violent period of political and cultural upheaval, repeated revolutions, regime changes, the abolition and reinstatement of slavery in France’s Caribbean colonies, followed by the founding of Haiti, the first modern nation forged by slaves and free persons of color who defeated their masters? Yet slavery and empire had mixed rather than segregated races, creating gens de couleur (people of color) and whites and blacks who were redefined as Creoles. According to the French, all persons born in the colonies were Creoles, regardless of race. This class will examine visual representations of racial difference in a society haunted by anxieties about racial purity and miscegenation. Defined at once as foreigners and colonial “relations,” Creoles moved to France and were prominent in artistic and literary culture; some French artists in turn moved to Haiti to paint for the government.
These years witnessed extraordinary transformations both in French art and the art made in Haiti to represent the new nation. While French art of this period was once explained in terms of a shift in styles (Rococo to Classicism to Romanticism), this course will examine the relation between artistic and political change, considering not only institutional pressures upon artists but also the shifting conceptions of art’s purpose and audience during revolutions in both the metropole and the colonies. Among those to be examined are the French artists David, Girodet, Gericault, Delacroix and Courbet; the Creole painters Guillaume Guillon-Lethière born in Guadeloupe, and Théodore Chassériau born in Haiti; the black model Joseph born in Haiti and the mixed-race model known as Aspasie. We will also read some of the extensive literature about protagonists of color written by mixed-race authors such as Alexandre Dumas père whose black father was born in Haiti and served as General under Napoleon, and French authors such as Victor Hugo, Georges Sand, and Honoré Balzac.
This course fulfills the following requirements for the History of Art major: Geographical area (A) or (E), and Chronological period (III), based on the topic of the final research paper or project.