Musée d'Orsay: Black models: from Géricault to Matisse

Black models: from Géricault to Matisse

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In the studio

Eugene DelacroixStudy after the model Aspasie© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole / photographie Frédéric Jaulmes
Artists appear to have recruited the models who posed for them occasionally from the small black population which had settled in Paris in the 19th century. Studio studies offer rich evidence of the presence of a black community in Paris, working primarily in domestic service and the arts and crafts.

Théodore GéricaultStudy of a back© RMN-Grand Palais / Philipp Bernard
In the absence of census data, only a small number of sources exist which can link a first name or nickname to a face. There are very few ways of identifying the various models who posed for artists. Valuable archive material from the École des beaux-arts reveals the age, address, and occasionally the country of origin, of some sitters.

Painted studies depicting these men and women in artists’ studios in the style of intimate and distinctively individual portraits stand in sharp contrast to Salon paintings perpetuating the ambivalent nature of the stereotypes associated with black figures.



Although these depictions capture aspects of the relationship between artists and models, they also demonstrate the plastic experiments which helped to shape a new aesthetic landscape.

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