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French, 'A Black Woman', 19th century

Key facts
Full title A Black Woman
Artist French
Date made 19th century
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 81.3 × 66.7 cm
Acquisition credit Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917, The National Gallery, London. In partnership with Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.
Inventory number NG3250
Location On loan: Long Loan to The Hugh Lane (2019 - 2031), Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Dublin, Ireland
Collection Main Collection
A Black Woman

This striking oil portrait of a nude Black woman wearing a turban is most likely French from the nineteenth century. We do not know who painted it, although it has been attributed to Delacroix, Fromentin and to Marie-Guillemine Benoist, a student of David. The painting does share some similarities with Benoist’s Portrait of a Black Woman (Louvre, Paris), which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1800.

Early to mid-nineteenth-century portraits of Black people are relatively rare in European art, but they were painted by Romantic artists such as Géricault and Delacroix and painters depicting Orientalist themes. Throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there was growing opposition to slavery from the abolitionist movement. Slavery was abolished in France during the Revolution but subsequently re-established by Napoleon, who feared losing French colonies. Like Benoist’s portrait in the Louvre, this picture’s sympathetic presentation of the sitter perhaps reflects a growing recognition of Black people as individuals rather than types.

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