Black models: from Géricault to Matisse, Musée D'Orsay, Paris, France

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From the French Revolution to the abolition of slavery in 1848, and from the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) in 1791 to the emergence of the Négritude movement in the 1930s, this period spanning almost a century and a half has witnessed first-hand the tensions, struggles and debates caused by the birth of modern democracy and consequently loaded and nourished the world of images and art. Despite all kinds of objections and obstacles, a black iconography and identity is gradually asserting itself.

Focused on three key events – 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 has been disregarded for too long: the major contribution of black people and personalities to art history.

The title of the exhibition seeks to emphasise the different potential meanings of the word “model”, which can be understood both as an “artist’s model” and as an exemplary figure. Many men and women of colour crossed paths with artists and forged relationships with them. The exhibition explores the identity of these neglected figures in the history of modernity and attempts to reinstate their names, reveal their stories, and restore them a visibility.

From a stereotype to an individual, from a not recognized figure to a recognized one, this exhibition intends to show this long process and to cast light on one of the most overlooked and least mentioned areas of art history, thus revealing once again how this discipline acts as a mirror to reflect prevailing ideas and sensitivities, and confirming the powerful sense of continuity which unites both the 19th and 20th centuries and the present day.

Exhibition