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Bridging the Gap between Self and Other ? Pictorial Representation of Blacks in England in the Middle of the Eighteenth Century

Les Noirs dans la peinture anglaise au milieu du dix-huitième siècle : une tentative pour rapprocher le moi et l’autre ?
Élisabeth Martichou

Résumés

Au dix-huitième siècle la représentation des Noirs dans la peinture anglaise connut un changement, comme en attestent plusieurs tableaux qui manifestent une attitude nouvelle quant à la question de l’identité et des différences entre Blancs et Noirs. Gainsborough fait d’Ignatius Sancho un « gentleman », un homme de sentiment qu’il faut néanmoins garder à distance du spectateur. Wright of Derby dans Two Girls with a Black Servant suggère la possibilité d’une égalité entre les enfants tout en rappelant l’actuel statut d’infériorité de l’enfant noire. Dans son portrait d’Omai, Reynolds mêle signes d’altérité exotique et références à la culture classique. Enfin, dans Watson and the Shark de Singleton Copley, la figure héroïque incarnée par l’homme noir est contredite par la passivité du sujet. Ainsi si l’altérité fut rendue acceptable grâce au recours à ces modèles culturels occidentaux que sont le sentiment et le mythe du bon sauvage, les différences ne furent jamais totalement effacées.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 David Dabydeen, Hogarth’s Blacks : Images of Blacks in Eighteenth-Century English Art, Kings (...)
  • 2 See Nicholas Tromans (ed.), The Lure of the East : British Orientalist Painting, Londo (...)
  • 3 Beth Fowkes Tobin, Picturing Imperial Power : Colonial Subjects in Eighteenth-Century (...)
  • 4 David Bindman, “A Voluptuous Alliance between Africa and Europe: Hogarth’s Africans”, in Bern (...)
  • 5 Ronald Paulson, Hogarth’s Graphic Works, 3rd ed., London : The Print Room, 1989, 344.

1Blacks have never been totally absent from Western Art although they were visible only at the margin, secondary figures included as ethnic signs of otherness. In biblical scenes their presence could be required by the episode depicted, the most frequent appearance of a coloured man being as the black Magus visiting the infant Christ and the Virgin. In secular portraiture, exoticism takes the form of the black servant, a young boy most of the time, looking respectfully at his master or mistress : “The image of the black Magus attending the Madonna in an attitude of human equality is debased into the image of the black slave-servant attending the secular white mistress in an attitude of inferiority and humiliation”, as David Dabydeen puts it1. Numerous examples of such portraits can be found in seventeenth and eighteenth century English painting, one of the most typical being Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Turkish Dress with Page (1725), attributed to Jonathan Richardson: the black page is standing behind his mistress, visible mainly thanks to his vivid red coat, his brown face almost melting into the dark background. He is clearly used here as a foil, his dark skin enhancing the paleness of the woman, whom he is watching2. He is also an accessory, like Lady Montagu’s Turkish costume, one of the “commodities associated with the dark ‘others’ of the world3 or, to put it differently, “nature’s tribute to nurture, savagery’s tribute to gentility4. At the beginning of the eighteenth century blacks, if present at all in paintings, are included as signs of alterity, indicators of faraway, uncivilized places. They are also visual markers of racial difference in the incipient art of caricature. Apart from, or sometimes together with their traditional role as servants, they frequently embody exacerbated sexual desire, thus externalizing the white man’s inner demons. This is the case in several of Hogarth’s engravings : the fourth scene of Marriage A La Mode includes both a black servant and a young black page who suggests that the count is going to be cuckolded by pointing at the horns of a deer’s head5. However, towards the middle of the eighteenth century, more exactly between 1768 and 1778, there occured a change in the pictorial representation of blacks, an attempt to question the racial stereotypes that had prevailed so far. For the first time in the history of English art, blacks became, exceptionally but significantly, central figures in portraiture, not just servants relegated to the background or the sides of the picture and were even included in the noblest genre in the academic hierarchy, history painting. Otherness seemed at last worthy of being represented for its own sake.

  • 6 Aphra Behn, Oroonoko [1688] in Oroonoko and Other Writings, Paul Salzman (ed.), Oxford  (...)
  • 7 Joseph Spence, Crito, London, 1752.
  • 8 Alexander Cozens, Principles of Beauty Relative to the Human Head, London, 1778, 7.

2Aphra Behn’s eponymous hero in Oroonoko was a prince whose skin was “a perfect ebony, or polished jet”, as if the comparison with precious materials redeemed the darkness ; “his nose was rising and Roman instead of African and flat. His mouth, the finest shaped that could be seen, far from those great turned lips, which are so natural to the rest of Negroes6. The European canon of beauty was used here to abolish difference in aesthetic perception. Half a century later, African features had become acceptable as such, at the moment when art theory acknowledged the relativity of our ideas of the beautiful. In Crito (1752), Joseph Spence reminds the reader of his dialogue that in some African nations scars are regarded as becoming and whiteness is occasionally a source of terror on African shores. In aesthetic terms, brown has more qualities than white : “I am a good deal persuaded, that a complete brown Beauty is really preferable to a perfect fair one, the bright brown giving a Lustre to all the other Colours, a Vivacity to the Eyes, and a richness to the whole Look, which one seeks in vain in the whitest and most transparent Skins7. In 1778, Alexander Cozens recognizes the existence of what he calls a “taste of fancy” to which belong “all the different local tastes of beauty, as the Chinese, the Ethiopian, the Hottentot, etc […]8. From now on, beauty could also be exotic and black, both white and black race could be painted with equal dignity.

  • 9 Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling, 2nd ed., 1771, Brian Vickers (ed.), Oxford : Oxford UP, (...)
  • 10 Ibidem, 73.
  • 11 John Mullan, Sentiment and Sociability : the Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century, (...)

3Simultaneously, the emergence of a new type, “the man of feeling”, to take up the title of Henry Mackenzie’s novel of 1771, laid emphasis on the passions, in their universality. About one of the female characters the narrator says: “Her humanity was a feeling, not a principle9. Later the hero exclaims : “Let’s never forget that we are all relations10. The emphasis on sentiment implies notions of equality and fraternity. The capacity for pity and benevolence, common to all mankind, promised “the effacement of difference11. The four pictures studied here, by Thomas Gainsborough, Joseph Wright of Derby, Joshua Reynolds and John Singleton Copley, in chronological order, raise the issue of identity and difference between the races in all its ambiguities since they do not completely fulfill the promise.

Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Ignatius Sancho (1768)

4Gainsborough painted the portrait of Ignatius Sancho in 1768. Ignatius Sancho (1729 ?-1780) was a black man born on a slave ship. An orphan at the age of two, his owner took him to England where he was educated thanks to the duke of Montagu. After the duke’s demise he worked as a butler for the duchess then as valet for the duchess’s son-in-law, before setting up shop as a grocer in 1774. He had married in 1758 and had seven children. During his lifetime he published two plays and a theory of music. His death, in 1780, was recorded in the British press, this having never been the case before for a Briton of African origin. In many respects Sancho was a celebrity in his own time, as shown by the posthumous publication of his Letters in 1782, the only remaining proof of his literary activity. The publishing was initiated by one of his correspondents, Frances Crewe, and met with no negligible success with the reading public : the Letters were reprinted several times.

  • 12 James Boswell, Life of Johnson, 1791, R.W. Chapman (ed.), Oxford : Oxford UP, 1998, (...)
  • 13 Ignatius Sancho, Letters, 2 vols., London, 1782, vol. 1, II.
  • 14 Ibidem, XV.
  • 15 Ibid., IX.

5They were preceded by a “memoir”, in the form of a biographical notice which remained anonymous until the fifth edition of 1803. In spite of Samuel Johnson’s initial promise to write the preface, Joseph Jekyll, a lawyer and politician (1754-1837) had to take up the task. The original choice of Johnson to be the author of the memoir made sense if we consider the latter’s stance against slavery. In 1777, answering Boswell who was pro-slavery, Johnson insisted that all men were originally equal and that “no man is by nature the property of another12. Slavery is thus condemned as introducing difference between white and black, self and other where initially there was sameness. Jekyll’s short biography also develops the notion of identity from an intellectual rather than an ethical point of view and insists that Sanchos’ Letters have a demonstrative function. The reader will be satisfied that “an untutored African may possess abilities equal to an European13. All those that visited Africa could not but notice “the mental abilities of the natives” and discover “negro art and polity”. Here Jekyll distinguishes between the intellectual qualities of native Africans and “the ignorance and grossness of slaves in the Sugar Islands, expatriated in infamy, and brutalized under the whip and the task-master” before concluding that “the perfection of the reasoning faculties does not depend on a particular conformation of the scull (sic) or the colour of a common integument14. It must however be noticed that while acknowledging Africans’ mental capacities, Jekyll seems to deny them the possibility of a moral deportment : when relating Sancho’s failings, namely his indulgence in women and card-playing, he accounts for them as a “propensity which appears to be innate among his countrymen15.

  • 16 Ibid., 99.
  • 17 Ibid., 91.
  • 18 Ibid., 9, 111-113, 117.
  • 19 Ibid., 174-175.

6In his letters, probably written with an eye to the potential reading public, Sancho is careful to convey an image of himself as both a man of intellect and a man of feeling : “My chief pleasure has been books – philanthropy I adore16. In the exclamatory tones characteristic of the literature of sentiment he had previously launched into a praise of benevolence : “Blessed philanthropy ! Oh ! The delights of making happy – the bliss of giving comfort to the afflicted – peace to the distressed mind –to prevent the request from the quivering lips of indigence17. “Sentiment” can also be understood in the sense of “opinion” and Sancho alludes to his reading of Bossuet’s Universal History or Goldsmith’s History of Greece and to his taste for the poetry of Milton, Thomson or Young. He sometimes takes up the role of the critic, writing about Voltaire’s Semiramis. It is also known that Sancho was an occasional contributor to the General Advertiser under the pseudonym “Africanus”, the choice of a generic name being a manifesto of a sort, claiming for all Africans the same intellectual powers as the white elite, the realm of ideas thus becoming the means of asserting equality and erasing cultural boundaries18. Significantly enough, Sancho’s plea against slavery is expressed in the name of compassion but also in the name of intellectual equality. Writing about an anti-slavery work, he denounces “the unchristian and most diabolical usage of my brother Negroes – the illegality – the horrid wickedness of the traffic – the cruel carnage and depopulation of the human species”. At the same time he praises a black poetess, Phyllis Wheatly, who is probably still a slave in the power of her master even if she is of “a genius superior to himself”19.

  • 20 Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 1759-1767, Harmondsworth : Pengu (...)

7By claiming intellectual equality between the races, Sancho went farther than his friend Laurence Sterne. In a famous passage from Tristram Shandy, Toby, on being asked by Trim if a black man has a soul, gives the following answer : “I suppose, God would not leave him without one, any more than thee or me20. Even if Sancho’s Letters reveal him as a Christian man of sentiment, he does not content himself with the assertion of benevolence, having a soul being the only sign of a common human nature : sharing the same humanity also signifies exerting the same capacity of reasoning.

  • 21 Michael Rosenthal and Martin Myrone, “Thomas Gainsborough: Art, Society, Sociability”, in M (...)
  • 22 Thomas Gainsborough, Ignatius Sancho, 1768, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. See M. (...)
  • 23 Quoted by M. Rosenthal and M. Myrone, ibid., 13.
  • 24 Ibid., 183.
  • 25 Ibid., 211.

8Gainsborough’s portrait of Ignatius Sancho was painted when the artist was staying in Bath, making a living by portraying wealthy clients, many of whom derived their incomes at least partly from plantations in the West Indies21. At that time Sancho was working as a valet to George, duke of Montagu and his portrait is said to have been executed in one hour and forty minutes on 29 November 1768. The black man was probably brought to Gainsborough’s studio by the duchess of Montagu and the painting may have been intended as a present for Sancho. It is a half-length portrait, a format the painter used several times, not only during his Bath period, as an alternative to full-length portraiture22. Sancho has adopted the pose of a gentleman with his hand in his waistcoat. The lace, golden band and buttons suggest the prosperity and well-being of someone who is no ordinary servant. The viewer’s eye is immediately caught by the red of the waistcoat, the vividness of which might justify Edward Burne-Jones’s later exclamation about Gainsborough that “the only thing he paints solidly are the scarlet coats, and they’re just simply crude vermilion23. The bright red contrasts sharply with the blue of the coat, with the russet colour of the background, typical of Gainsborough’s Bath paintings and most of all with the model’s dark skin. Dark colors were often used by the painter as a sign of “thoughtful sensibility24, as in the Portrait of the Reverend Humphry Gainsborough, the artist’s brother, a dissenting minister as well as an engineer. Humphry’s face is set off against a black background, which the reverend’s sombre clothes seem to melt into25. In Sancho’s portrait, it is the model’s face that matches the background in a subtle harmony of brown and russet which could be an illustration of Spence’s aesthetic judgement about the beauty of blackness.

  • 26 Ibid., 128.

9Sancho is looking to his right in a melancholic attitude that is reminiscent of Gainsborough’s portrait of a fellow artist, Jacques de Loutherbourg26. The black man’s right eye seems to be glistening with tears, the ability to weep easily being a characteristic of the man of feeling. The choice of the half-length format shifts the emphasis from the social status of the model to a more intimate representation of his personality. Thus Gainsborough resorted to certain codes enshrined in his own practice (format, colours, pose) to highlight the humanity of a man who, though belonging to a different race, was a man of sentiment like several others painted by the artist.

  • 27 Ibid., 127, 187, 195.
  • 28 Ibid., 128, 211.

10Yet, while diminishing the alterity of the black man by turning him both into a gentleman and a man of sentiment, Gainsborough does not totally suppress his otherness. Unlike Aphra Behn for Oroonoko, he does not europeanize his model’s distinctly African features and the waistcoat is so conspicuous because of the massive bulk of the man’s body, his physical presence being in no way reduced. This acknowledgement of the African’s face and body in their specificity is not negative in itself, making difference an acceptable aesthetic object but a few details in the painting point to a more ambivalent attitude to otherness. Even if sombre tones are the attribute of melancholy, the lack of contrast between the background and Sancho’s black visage may tend to play down the otherness of a face whose features and colour would have been better set off against a lighter background. Besides, the painting is inserted in a trompe l’œil roundel. Gainsborough used the roundel at other moments of his career, most notably for a painting due to be hung in the Foundling Hospital, in a self-portrait or in the above-mentioned portrait of his brother. In Sancho’s portrait, however, the choice of such a device, considering the unusual subject of the painting, may be given a meaning not necessarily to be found in the other pictures. The roundel seems to provide a second frame, increasing the distance between spectator and model, materializing the frontier between white viewer and black object of perception as if a black man of feeling was to remain forever an exotic object of curiosity. What is more, if Ignatius Sancho is eager to define himself as a writer and a critic, as shown in his Letters, no attribute of his mental capacities, be it a book or some writing paper is visible in the painting. In 1768, even if his correspondence had not yet been published, Gainsborough must have known about his model’s interest in literature and his failed attempts at a stage career playing Othello and Oroonoko. By contrast, the artist’s half-length portraits of women of sensibility often include emblems of the arts, denied to the black servant27. Another codified feature of Gainsborough’s portraits of intellectuals is the uplifted gaze, a sign of inspiration28 ; Sancho’s eyes are not turned upwards, he is merely looking on his right at something or someone inside the room. Thus subtle indicators of a preserved alterity separate Ignatius Sancho from the English public and his fellow men of feeling.

Joseph Wright of Derby’s Two Girls with a Black Servant or A Conversation of Girls (1769)

  • 29 Sarah Parsons, “A Conversation of Girls : Wright and British Visual Culture of Slavery 1760 (...)
  • 30 E. Parker and A. Kidson, Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, op. cit., 4, 135, 147, 150.

11With Wright of Derby, the question of racial difference is more intricately connected with the issue of slavery. The artist, under the influence of a friend, Peter Burdett, spent three years in Liverpool from 1768 to 1771, during which he made a profitable living as a portrait painter. The town’s prosperity relied heavily on the slave trade. In the eighteenth century almost 5000 voyages left Liverpool for the coast of Africa and by the mid-1760s it was the most active slavery port in Europe29. Unsurprisingly, quite a few of Wright’s patrons owed their wealth, partly or in totality, to the slave trade. Such was the case for Richard Gildart, a former Liverpool mayor, Thomas Staniforth, a trader and banker, John Tarleton, from a leading merchant family or Charles Goore who had an interest in the slave trade. They all had their portraits painted by Wright in his Liverpool period30.

  • 31 The name “lunar” means that the members met once a month on the Monday nearest to the full (...)
  • 32 Thomas Day, The Dying Negro, London, 1773, 4.

12If little is known about Wright’s personal attitude to slavery, one must mention his friendship with a group of intellectuals who began to voice aloud their abhorrence of the traffic. Although Wright was not a member of the “Lunar Society” of Birmingham, he knew some of its members who opposed the slave trade, like Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley or Josiah Wedgwood, who was later to manufacture the famous anti-slavery medallion bearing the inscription “Am I not a man and a brother31 ? Another Lunar man was Thomas Day (1748-1789), portrayed by the painter in 1770. Three years later Day published The Dying Negro, a poetical epistle supposed to be written by a black man. The poem is based on the real story of a fugitive slave who had been baptized and wanted to marry a white servant but was captured and eventually killed himself. The gap between the races seems temporarily bridged since the black man and the white girl love each other, their common human nature expressing itself through sentiment. When speaking of his fellow slaves, Day’s Negro exclaims: “Oh ! My heart sinks, my dying eyes o’erflow, / When mem’ry paints the picture of their woe32. The girl weeps over her unfortunate lover’s destiny, tears being once again in literature tokens of sensibility.

  • 33 T. Day, The Dying Negro, 1793 edition, 73.
  • 34 Ibidem, 76.

13Day’s poem went through several editions. In 1793 was added a “Fragment of an original Letter on the Slavery of the Negroes”, written in 1776 but not published at the time because of the war in America. In this “fragment” Day insists on the Africans’ essential humanity, they are “possessed of feelings more exquisite than European hearts can conceive33. Besides there is a new element in Day’s definition of a common human nature : the right to personal freedom : “If there is an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing a resolution of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his afflicted slaves34. Liberty is a universal right that must be granted to the African slave by the white American, himself recently freed from British oppression.

  • 35 James Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to S (...)
  • 36 William Roscoe, The Wrongs of Africa : a Poem, London, 1787, 2.
  • 37 William Roscoe, A General view of the African Slave Trade, London, 1788, 8.

14Wright may have also met local opponents of slavery active in Liverpool in the 1770s. In a work first published in 1770, James Beattie (1735-1803) aims at contradicting Hume’s assertion of the superiority of the white race. He highlights the black man’s “ingenuity” and adjures the Britons, as traditional defenders of liberty, not to condone slavery35. Later, William Roscoe (1753-1831), a Liverpool lawyer who was also a patron of the arts, in The Wrongs of Africa, underlined, like Day, the identity of feelings and sensations in blacks and whites in a passage that recalls Shylock’s monologue : “Form’d with the same capacity of pain, / The same desire of pleasure and of ease, / Why feels not man for man36 ? In another work he underlines that identity also means possessing that fundamental human right, freedom : “All men have by nature, an equal right to the enjoyment of personal liberty and security37. Not only did similarity between the races consist in intelligence or the capacity to feel but it was also defined by one basic political right, freedom.

  • 38 Joseph Wright of Derby, A Conversation of Girls, 1769, Private Collection. See E. B (...)
  • 39 Stephen Daniels, Joseph Wright, London : Tate Gallery Publishings, n.d., 32.
  • 40 E. Parker and A. Kidson (eds.), Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, op.cit., 150.

15Wright painted Two Girls with a Black Servant also known as A Conversation of Girls in 1769 and the work was exhibited at the Society of Artists in 177038. Ambiguity starts with the genre of the picture. Sometimes called a conversation piece because of one of its two titles, it does not refer to any historical individuals and the three young sitters were unnamed. Classifying it as a fancy picture or subject picture thus seems more appropriate if fancy pictures are defined as “consciously charming portraits, often of middle-class children and young women with playthings39. It also allows us to confer a broader meaning to the picture, which may well be deciphered as a statement about black and white relationships. If Wright frequently resorted to white children as figures for his paintings, finding a black model cannot have been too much of a difficulty in a town where there resided between 1000 and 2000 blacks. Yet whoever the artist, there were very few if any pictures mixing white and black children without adult presence. Hardly visible in the background, on the left, a small vessel could very well be a slave ship, not unlike the vessel, bigger in scale, also seen in Wright’s portrait of John Tarleton, as a signifier of the man’s profession and participation in the slave trade40. Thus the viewer is reminded of the black child’s origins, which is another invitation to see the picture as more than a group portrait.

  • 41 Ibidem, 108.
  • 42 E. Parker , “Swallowing up all the Business : Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool”, in E. P (...)
  • 43 E. Parker and A. Kidson, ibidem, 160-161.

16Wright was caught between the world of rich merchants, most of whom made a living thanks to slavery, and that of the first vocal opponents of slavery. It seems that his treatment of this particular subject picture mirrors his incapacity, or unwillingness, to take sides. The painting includes both elements pointing to a possible equality between the three girls and signs suggesting the black girl’s inferiority. Doubts have been raised about the black child’s sex, mainly because of her short hair but black girls, unlike white girls, could have very short hair as is shown in a painting by Pierre Mignard, dating back to 1682, a possible source for Wright’s painting: the duchess of Portsmouth is portrayed with a young female servant, wearing distinctly feminine clothes but with close-cropped hair41. The black servant in Wright’s Conversation of Girls, who has “refined features, long eyelashes, graceful fingers and [an] erect bearing” is wearing female garments similar to those of her little white mistresses, if less elaborate42. She is holding a basket of flowers, which reinforces the feminine atmosphere pervading the painting. Common nature here basically means common gender. Besides, without any adult being present, the children seem to form a community of equals, not unlike the group of young boys drawing after the model without any supervision in Wright’s Academy by Lamplight, painted at the same time43.

  • 44 Ibid., 164-165.
  • 45 The kneeling black man is a topos of anti-slavery literature.
  • 46 The urn is an element of classicism such as those used in Reynolds’s portraits, aim (...)

17Nonetheless inferiority is also signified, mostly through the girls’ attitudes. This subject picture may evoke several of the artist’s paintings such as Two Boys Blowing a Bladder by Candlelight or Two Girls Decorating a Cat by Candlelight, involving two (white) children with a plaything or an animal which becomes the object of their games44. Will the girls play together and if so what role will be given to the black servant ? One may wonder… The black girl’s head is in a lower position, at the basis of a semi-circle including the tops of the three figures’ heads. She is kneeling, whereas the white girls are standing, which is suggestive of submission and announces the slave in Wedgwood’s medallion, begging the white man for freedom45. The kneeling position points to the inferiority of the individual asking for a favour from another individual with the power to grant or refuse it. Difference is also mirrored in the two white girls’ close association with the neo-classical urn, a symbol of middle-class wealth and culture from which the black servant is excluded46.

18However the painting does not easily lend itself to be read in stark opposition, white versus black, inferior versus superior and one must draw a distinction between the attitudes of the two white girls. The black servant and the dark-haired girl on the right are wearing the same colours, pink and white as well as exchanging looks in mutual awareness so that the white child may embody one possible reaction to slavery, the compassion so much called for by the early opponents of the slave trade, in the name of a common human nature. The second white girl seems to stand slightly apart, detached from the group formed by the other children. She is red-haired, dressed in blue and gazing at the viewer, possibly indifferent to the black girl’s history and destiny in the same way that many Britons failed to care about the horrors of the “middle passage”.

19In fact this painting stages both identity, through gender and equality in youthful games, and difference of social status and political rights between the races. This ambivalence is reflected in the double title, one emphasizing social differences (Two Girls with a Black Servant) and the other (A Conversation of Girls) suggesting the erasing of alterity through the socializing and equalizing practice of conversation.

Reynolds’s Omai (1776)

  • 47 Joshua Reynolds, Idler, 82 (1759) in Works, 2nd ed., 3 vols., London, 1798, vol.2, 235-243, (...)

20Reynolds’s ideas about black people and slavery are easier to trace than Wright’s. The issue of the Idler dated 10 November 1759 contains one of Joshua Reynolds’s early contributions to art theory. In a short essay the painter asserts the relativity of taste. An Ethiopian painter would represent the Goddess of beauty “black, with thick lips, flat nose, and woolly hair […]”. Aesthetic judgement is totally dependent on custom : “We, indeed, say, that the form and colour of the European is preferable to that of the Ethiopian, but I know of no other reason we have for it, but that we are more accustomed to it”. His conclusion is a linguistic attempt at reconciling identity and difference: “The black and white nations must, in respect of beauty, be considered of different kinds, at least a different species of the same kind […]47. If beauty could include blackness and African features in the aesthetic field, in the political sphere freedom should be extended to black slaves. Reynold was a close friend of Samuel Johnson, already mentioned as an opponent of slavery. It is also known that Reynolds subscribed to the second edition of Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, first published in 1787.

  • 48 See David Mannings (ed.), Joshua Reynolds: a Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 (...)

21The painter’s interest in black people is visible in his art. From 1748 to 1786 he included black figures in several of his paintings, usually pages, often in portraits of sailors or soldiers. They are all placed in the background, a situation emblematic of their socially inferior status. In Reynolds’s portraits or conversation pieces of the gentility, black female servants are present, some of African origin, others with distinctly Indian features and usually in the role of nurses for the white children. In all cases, these figures, be they male or female, are signs of exoticism, reminding the viewer of their owner’s foreign connections. Their dark skin provides a contrast with the clear complexions of the other characters, which must have had its appeal for a painter as a visual experimentation. Yet the fact that at least twelve pictures in Reynolds’s painted work contain dark-skinned figures is significant of more than mere aesthetic relevance48.

  • 49 Martin Postle (ed.), Joshua Reynolds : the Creation of Celebrity, London: Tate Publishing, (...)

22Three of these works must be singled out. A proud-looking young black, probably a servant, is deemed worthy of individual portraiture in a sketch dated 1770. In the celebrated Prince George and Black Servant (1786-87), the richly-dressed black page who is helping his master put on his garments is made to stand in the foreground, closer to the spectator than the Prince himself. The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy at the very moment when the “Society for the Abolition of Slavery” launched its campaign and the audacious position of the servant was a source of indignant comment. One critic exclaimed : “The black pushes him [the Prince] as he pleases” while another wrote that he “looked as if he was measuring the Prince for a pair of breeches49.

  • 50 Joshua Reynolds, Omai, c.1776, Private Collection. See Martin Postle, The Creation of Celeb (...)
  • 51 See David Mannings, A Complete Catalogue, op. cit., vol. 1, 357.
  • 52 James Boswell, Life of Johnson [1791], R.W. Chapman (ed.), Oxford : Oxford Universi (...)
  • 53 Georg Forster, A Voyage round the World, 2 vols., London, 1777, vol.1, 388-389.

23In these two pictures blacks were undeniably more than passive ornaments and such is also the case with Omai, the portrait of a Tahitian painted in 177650. Omai was a South Sea Islander who came to England in 1776 on board Cook’s vessel and stayed for three years. His name means “of the family of Mai” but Cook’s officers attached the “O” so that he was called “Omai” all along his stay51. Johnson met the Tahitian who had become something of a celebrity and, according to Boswell, he was “struck by the elegance of his behaviour” and asserted there was little of the savage in Omai, who had spent his time with the best English company52. However a member of Cook’s expedition, Georg Forster, denounced Omai as an impostor trying to pass himself off as a prince and a “priest of the sun”. Forster also denigrated his physical appearance : “We do him no injustice to assert that, among all the inhabitants of Taheitee (sic) and the Society Isles, we have seen few individuals as ill-favoured as himself53.

  • 54 Martin Postle, The Creation of Celebrity, op. cit., 215.
  • 55 David Mannings, A Complete Catalogue, op. cit., vol.1, 408.
  • 56 Harriet Guest,“Curiously Marked: Tattoing, Masculinity and Nationality in Eighteenth-Centur (...)
  • 57 G. Forster, A Voyage, op. cit., vol.1, 388.

24“Noble savage” or ordinary savage ? Omai’s celebrity probably raised the question at least in the fashionable circles of those that met him. Reynolds provides his own, complex, answer. The picture, exhibited at the Royal Academy, is a full-length portrait of the kind usually reserved for genteel sitters or celebrities. Scyacust Ukah, the “King of Cherokees”, another visiting “savage” portrayed by the painter in 1762, had only been granted the half-length format54. The Cherokee’s facial paintings do not appear on his portrait though they were mentioned in the duchess of Cumberland’s description of Scyacust Ukah55. On the contrary, Omai’s otherness is indicated by the tattoos on his left hand which is standing out against the white sash that is part of his costume. As Harriet Guest puts it, they belong “to the exotic spectacle56. The palm-trees in the background also evoke Omai’s native country and the “noble savage”’s features are harmonious (thus not fitting Forster’s description) but not Europeanized. They reproduce faithfully the sketch previously painted by Reynolds. Besides, in the latter, Omai’s hair is loose whereas in the grand portrait it is hidden under a turban, a rather conventional, orientalizing sign of exoticism, not necessarily connected with Omai’s origins. The ample garment gives the impression of a strong body although Forster described Omai’s stature as “tall but very slim57. As in Sancho’s portrait by Gainsborough, remarkable visual presence is given to the body.

  • 58 Ibidem, vol.1, 389.
  • 59 David Mannings, A Complete Catalogue, op. cit., vol.1, 357.

25In spite of these unmistakable indications of alterity, Omai becomes a “noble savage” only because some details in the painting draw him towards Western civilization. Reynolds used clear brown for his skin, in particular for his face while Forster states that “his colour was likewise the darkest hue of the common class of people […]58. Omai’s attitude is the standard classical pose of the Apollo Belvedere, a key figure in the canon of European sculpture and the way he is dressed evokes the toga of neo-classical art : “The dress, together with the gesture of his right hand, gives the effect of an ancient philosopher or orator59. The simplicity of Omai’s costume should be contrasted with Scyacust’s richly coloured dress. The Cherokee, through his accessories, the calumet, peace medal and gorget, is identified as a warrior, albeit pacified. Omai’s portrait bears no sign of hostility, past or present, towards the white colonizer.

  • 60 Ibidem, vol.1, 357.
  • 61 G. Forster, A Voyage round the World, op. cit., 389.

26The picture was duly appreciated by the public with whom it remained a favourite, popularized by Johann Jacobé’s engraving. About Omai, Joseph Burke wrote that “for a memorable moment the classical and romantic tendencies of the eighteenth century are fused in perfect reconciliation60. This synthesis could also be interpreted as the blending of exotic and European elements whose result is a composite image aiming at playing down obvious signs of difference and highlighting similarity so that the wild man becomes acceptable and contributes to the elaboration of the myth of the “noble savage”. If Forster’s narrative undermines many of the details in the picture, his moral portrait of Omai, at least, reinforces the idea of moral nobility which is also part of the myth : “He was warm in his affections, grateful, and humane; he was polite, intelligent, lively, and volatile61.

John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark (1778)

  • 62 Quoted by Paul Staiti, “Accounting for Copley”, in Carrie Rebora and Paul Staiti (e (...)

27John Singleton Copley, like Reynolds, was first and foremost a portraitist. American-born, he started his career in Boston and contributed to the anglicization of culture in Northern America by his paintings of the local middle-class in the English, post-Van Dyck manner. In 1774 he decided to emigrate to England, chiefly for political reasons. Although he never expressed any clear opinion about the conflict, he was connected through his marriage to Loyalist interests, which made his situation more and more uncomfortable in pre-revolutionary America. His motivation for leaving Boston was also grounded in his sense of himself as a fully-fledged artist. Copley, who had read art treatises, complained in his letters that in his country of origin painting was regarded as a mere trade and that Americans were “entirely destitute of all just ideas of the arts62, which meant that they failed to appreciate the historical genre, the highest in the academic hierarchy, for which there was no demand in Boston (and very little in England, it must be said…).

  • 63 Ann Uhry Abrams,“Politics, Prints, and John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark”, The A (...)
  • 64 John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778, National Gallery of Art, Washington. See (...)

28Before settling in England, Copley made a fourteen-month tour of the Continent which took him to Italy. In Rome his meeting with the Scottish history painter, Gavin Hamilton, strengthened his interest in the “grand genre” already nourished by his correspondence with Benjamin West, his fellow American artist who had successfully emigrated to London. West obtained public acclaim for The Death of General James Wolfe (1770), which initiated a sub-category in history painting: the subject was contemporary, the distance in space replacing the distance in time that had prevailed so far in religious, mythological or strictly historical themes. This is the model followed in Copley’s Watson and the Shark, exhibited in 1778 and favourably reviewed by the press. The subject of the picture was chosen by its commissioner, Brook Watson, an English merchant and possibly a Tory agent at the outset of the War of Independence, who was later to become Lord Mayor of London. Watson had acquired a heroic reputation by his acts of bravery in the French and Indian Wars in Nova Scotia, despite an amputated leg63. Watson and the Shark recalls the traumatic event that led to Watson’s amputation, in 1749, when as a fourteen-year-old boy swimming in Havana Bay his leg was torn off by a shark64.

  • 65 Roger B. Stein, “Copley’s Watson and the Shark and Aesthetics in the 1770s”, Discov (...)
  • 66 E. Ballew Neff, John Singleton Copley, op. cit., 107.
  • 67 Ibidem, 141.

29Apart from the choice of a contemporary story, the picture’s originality lies in the importance conferred to a single black man who is standing, with the white harpooner, in the centre of the painting. In Copley’s Boston, there were roughly 800 African-Americans out of a population of 15,600. Yet, judging from the existing catalogues of the painter’s works, Copley never included any black figure, not even as a servant, in any of his portraits. Perhaps they would have too obviously evoked the “inhuman traffic” which Bostonians more than tolerated but did not wish to be reminded of. In Watson and the Shark, the artist changed his original composition and replaced a white figure by a black one as central character. This choice can be vindicated by the necessity of conveying some local colour: Havana was at the time an active port in the British slave trade and there were always a few black sailors on board most ships65. The black man’s presence also reveals an interest in the other race which took form only once the painter had left the shores of America. In 1777-78 he executed a head and shoulders sketch of an unidentified black sitter, a realistic study of a face whose African features stand out prominently66. In his other famous history painting, The Death of Major Peirson (1782-84), recalling an episode of the war against the French in Jersey, a black man plays a pivotal role : as the major’s servant he immediately revenges his master’s death by shooting the Frenchman who had killed Peirson67.

  • 68 R. Stein, “Copley’s Watson and the Shark and Aesthetics in the 1770s” in Discoveries and (...)
  • 69 Quoted in E. Ballew Neff, John Singleton Copley, op. cit., 81.

30Although Copley never made a personal statement about slavery, his historical paintings explore the possibility of integrating black men into the social community thanks to their heroic loyalty. The division of Watson and the Shark into three parts, marine foreground, topographical background and human middle-ground, by isolating the small human community from the rest of the picture, emphasizes the black man’s belonging to the group68. His position at the top of the visual pyramid raises him to heroic prominence, which he shares with the harpooner, the grand style being here viewed as appropriate to ordinary men, be they white or coloured. The black is holding the rope that will eventually save Watson’s life, thus reversing the more common situation in which a black slave thrown overboard was in danger of being devoured by the sharks. The connection between saver and saved is set forth by the parallel diagonals made by their arms. Like the faces of the other members of the crew, the black’s features are expressive of the “sublime” emotions of surprise and terror occasioned by the cruel scene, “a fine index of concern and horror”, according to a critic of the time69.

  • 70 Albert Boime, The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century, Washingt (...)

31However the black sailor’s heroic equality with the whites is subtly undermined. Albert Boime, while acknowledging that the towline “establishes a direct connection with the white victim” underlines the black man’s ambiguous passivity : “Apparently the majestic black man functions as a servant, waiting to hand the rope to the others when called upon to do so; at best he registers a sense of compassion for the hapless Watson70. In contrast with the rigidity of the harpoon, the rope seems to hang limply as if the man holding it, a man of sentiment but not a man of action, was paralyzed, unable to make a further effort to reach out to the drowning victim. His apparent helplessness can also be compared unfavourably with the active role of the two whites leaning out of the boat and holding out their hands in a desperately intense gesture towards Watson. In fact the two white characters on the one hand and the coloured sailor on the other embody two possible resolutions of the suspense that characterizes the scene: is the boy going to be saved ? The black figure seems in doubt. Difference between the races is reintroduced via an opposition between activity and passivity, hope and maybe not despair but acceptation of destiny.

  • 71 Irma B. Jaffe, “John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark”, The American Art Journal, IX (...)
  • 72 Hugh Honour, L’Image du noir dans l’art occidental, Marie-Geneviève de La Coste Messelière (...)

32Another sign of alterity will become visible if the painting is viewed with an eye to its antecedents, paintings or sculptures belonging to Western artistic tradition, which Copley was certainly familiar with as a reader of Reynolds who frequented the Royal Academy and had been to Italy. The overall composition of Watson and the Shark is inspired from one of Raphaël’s Cartoons, which in Copley’s days could be seen at Buckingham House. The Miraculous Draught of Fishes includes two figures leaning over one of two boats, probable ancestors of Copley’s two white sailors. What is more, the harpooner’s position is reminiscent of the archetypal representation of Saint Michael or Saint George fighting the dragon. Lastly it has also been suggested that Watson’s arm resembled the arms of the figures in the famous antique group of sculpture, the Laocoön , a cast of which was at the Royal Academy71. It could be added that Watson’s nudity doesn’t make sense from a realistic point of view (he would have been clothed) but is relevant if the boy’s body is viewed in the perspective of classical art. From that angle the treatment of black and whites is different in so far as there is no artistic precedent for the black sailor’s posture. It is identified as a contrapposto by Hugh Honour but this is arguable72. Even if the man’s right arm fits the description of this position, frequent in Greek and Roman statuary, his legs are hidden, which makes it difficult to make a clear statement about an attitude involving the whole body.

  • 73 David Dabyden, Hogarth’s Blacks : Images of Blacks in Eighteenth-Century English Art, Kings (...)

33In the four pictures the erasing of difference is attempted by casting the black figures into roles favoured by the cultural context of the time: man or girl of feeling and “noble savage”. Ignatius Sancho and Wright’s black girl are two versions, male and female, of sentimentality. Omai and Copley’s black servant-sailor are “noble savages”, the former embodying Europeanized, “civilized” blackness and the latter heroic loyalty towards the white race, not unlike Friday’s relationship to Crusoe. This aesthetic interest developed in the 1770s and corresponds to the beginnings of a more active phase in the movement against the slave trade and eventually slavery proper. In this decade there was “a deluge of anti-slavery verse73 and David Hartley (1731-1813), a politician, proposed ending slavery in several speeches delivered in the House of Commons between 1775-1777.

  • 74 Kay Dian Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement : Picturing the British West (...)

34The cultural models of sentiment and noble savagery made otherness acceptable but only to a point. Intellectual and political equality could not be fully acknowledged and were only hinted at as a possibility by Gainsborough and Wright. With Copley and Reynolds, heroic status was given to the black man, but as if reluctantly, under stereotypical forms. In fact if equality was achieved at all and difference effaced it was on artistic grounds. During the period from 1768 to 1778 blacks were represented in the highest categories of painting, portrait or history and obtained equal pictorial treatment, being judged as worthy of aesthetic interest as white models: brown as a colour was no longer a mere foil to the white skin. The black body was dignified, gentlemanly garments or neo-classical dress replacing the traditional, sometimes flamboyant exotic costume which in portraiture was only meant to evoke the master’s riches. This was to remain an exception in English art. From the 1780s on, as the debates on slavery and the slave trade gathered momentum, visual representation of blacks increasingly focused on the body deprived of the trappings of civilization. James Gillray, in a crude, overtly racist, manner, produced caricatures intented as manifestoes against anti-slavery activists, like William Wilberforce. In Philanthropic Consolations after the Loss of the Slave Bill (1796) the latter, who had proposed the eventually defeated bill, is represented on a sofa with two black females whose abundant flesh is prominently displayed. Their bared breasts define them as oversexed characters, the embodiment of female lust74.

  • 75 David Bindman, Mind-Forg’d Manacles:William Blake and Slavery, London : Hayward Gallery Pub (...)
  • 76 William Gaunt, Turner, London : Phaidon Press, 1971, 43.

35In 1796 John Gabriel Stedman published his Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, which William Blake illustrated although he was an opponent of slavery. Blake also bared the bodies of the slaves that were the central subject of his engravings but with an intention that was the very opposite of Gillray’s: no longer demonized, the black body was exposed as the object of intense physical torturing75. William Turner in his Slave Ship, exhibited in 1840, would go one step further and include black bodies only under the form of shackled arms and legs torn off by the sharks after the slaves had been thrown overboard76. Thus at the turn of the century the emphasis on otherness had to be reintroduced in the aesthetic field as a militant gesture meant to eventually restore, with the abolition of slavery, the black man’s physical integrity while his intellectual integrity was in the process of being reestablished thanks to the publishing of texts such as Quobna Ottobah Cugoano’s or Olaudah Equiano’s narratives.

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Bibliographie

BALLEW Neff Emily (ed.), John Singleton Copley in England, London : Merrell Holberton Publishers, 1995.

BEATTIE James, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism, Edinburgh, 1776.

BEHN Aphra, Oroonoko, 1688, Oroonoko and Other Writings, Paul Salzman (ed.), Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1994.

BINDMAN David, “ A Voluptuous Alliance between Africa and Europe : Hogarth’s Africans” in Bernadette FORT and Angela Rosenthal (eds.), The Other Hogarth, Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2001, 260-269.

Bernadette FORT and Angela Rosenthal (eds.), Ape to Apollo : Aesthetics and the Idea of Race in the Eighteenth Century, Ithaca (NY) : Cornell University Press, 2002.

Bernadette FORT and Angela Rosenthal (eds.), Mind-Forg’d Manacles : William Blake and Slavery, London : Hayward Gallery Publishing, 2007.

BOIME Albert, The Art of Exclusion : Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century, Washington : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.

BOSWELL James, Life of Johnson, 1791, R.W. Chapman (ed.), Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1998.

COZENS Alexander, Principles of Beauty Relative to the Human Head, London, 1778.

DABYDEEN David, Hogarth’s Blacks : Images of Blacks in Eighteenth-Century English Art, Kingston upon Thames : Dangaroo Press, 1985.

DANIELS Stephen, Joseph Wright, London : Tate Gallery Publishings, n.d.

DAY Thomas, The Dying Negro, London, 1773.

FORT Bernadette and Angela ROSENTHAL (eds.), The Other Hogarth, Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2001.

FORSTER Georg, A Voyage round the World, 2 vols., London, 1777, vol.1.

FOWKES Tobin Beth, Picturing Imperial Power : Colonial Subjects in Eighteenth-Century British Painting, Durham and London : Duke University Press, 1999.

GAUNT William, Turner, London : Phaidon Press, 1971.

GUEST Harriet,“Curiously Marked : Tattoing, Masculinity and Nationality in Eighteenth-Century British Perception of the South Pacific”, in John BARREL (ed.), Paintings and the Politics of Culture: New Essays on British Art 1700-1850, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1982, 101-134.

HONOUR Hugh, L’Image du noir dans l’art occidental, Marie-Geneviève de La Coste Messelière (trad.), Paris : Gallimard, 1989.

ISRAEL Calvin (ed.), Discoveries and Considerations : Essays on Early American Literature and Aesthetics, Albany : State University of New York Press, 1976.

JAFFE Irma B., “John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark”, The American Art Journal, IX-1, May 1977, 15-25.

KRIZ Kay Dian, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement: Picturing the British West Indies, 1700-1840, New Haven : Yale UP, 2008.

MACKENZIE Henry, The Man of Feeling, 2nd ed., 1771, Brian Vickers (ed.), Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2001.

MANNINGS David (ed.), Joshua Reynolds: a Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols., New Haven : Yale University Press, 2000.

MULLAN John, Sentiment and Sociability : the Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1988.

PARKER Elizabeth and Alex KIDSON (eds.), Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, New Haven : Yale University Press, 2008.

PARKER Elizabeth, “Swallowing up all the Business : Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool”, in Elizabeth PARKER and Alex KIDSON (eds.), Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, New Haven : Yale University Press, 2008, 41-83.

PARSONS Sarah, “A Conversation of Girls : Wright and British Visual Culture of Slavery 1760-1800”, in Elizabeth Parker and Alex Kidson (eds.), Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, New Haven : Yale UP, 2008, 105-120.

PAULSON Ronald, Hogarth’s Graphic Works, London : The Print Room, 1989.

POSTLE Martin (ed.), Joshua Reynolds : the Creation of Celebrity, London : Tate Publishing, 2005.

REYNOLDS Joshua, Works, 2nd ed., 3 vols., London, 1798.

ROSCOE William, The Wrongs of Africa : a Poem, London, 1787.

ROSCOE William, A General view of the African Slave Trade, London, 1788.

ROSENTHAL Michael and Martin Myrone, “Thomas Gainsborough : Art, Society, Sociability”, in Michael Rosenthal and Martin Myrone (eds.), Gainsborough, London : Tate Publishing, 2002.

SANCHO Ignatius, Letters, 2 vols., London, 1782.

SPENCE Joseph, Crito, London, 1752.

STAITI Paul, “Accounting for Copley”in Carrie Rebora and Paul Staiti (eds.), John Singleton Copley in America, New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995, 25-51.

STEIN Roger B., “Copley’s Watson and the Shark and Aesthetics in the 1770s”, in Calvin Israel (ed.), Discoveries and Considerations : Essays on Early American Literature and Aesthetics, Albany : State University of New York Press, 1976.

STERNE Laurence, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 1759-1767, Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1991.

TROMANS Nicholas (ed.), The Lure of the East : British Orientalist Painting, London : Tate Publishing, 2008.

UGLOW Jenny, The Lunar Men : the Friends who Made the Future 1730-1810, London : Faber and Faber, 2002.

UHRY ABRAMS Ann, “Politics, Prints, and John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark”, The Art Bulletin, 61, n°2 (June 1979) : 265-276.

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Notes

1 David Dabydeen, Hogarth’s Blacks : Images of Blacks in Eighteenth-Century English Art, Kingston upon Thames : Dangaroo Press, 1985, 36.

2 See Nicholas Tromans (ed.), The Lure of the East : British Orientalist Painting, London: Tate Publishing, 2008, 72.

3 Beth Fowkes Tobin, Picturing Imperial Power : Colonial Subjects in Eighteenth-Century British Painting, Durham and London: Duke UP, 1999, 21.

4 David Bindman, “A Voluptuous Alliance between Africa and Europe: Hogarth’s Africans”, in Bernadette Fort and Angela Rosenthal (eds.), The Other Hogarth, Princeton : Princeton UP, 2001, 264.

5 Ronald Paulson, Hogarth’s Graphic Works, 3rd ed., London : The Print Room, 1989, 344.

6 Aphra Behn, Oroonoko [1688] in Oroonoko and Other Writings, Paul Salzman (ed.), Oxford : Oxford UP, 1994, 13.

7 Joseph Spence, Crito, London, 1752.

8 Alexander Cozens, Principles of Beauty Relative to the Human Head, London, 1778, 7.

9 Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling, 2nd ed., 1771, Brian Vickers (ed.), Oxford : Oxford UP, 2001, 13.

10 Ibidem, 73.

11 John Mullan, Sentiment and Sociability : the Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1988, 30.

12 James Boswell, Life of Johnson, 1791, R.W. Chapman (ed.), Oxford : Oxford UP, 1998, 878.

13 Ignatius Sancho, Letters, 2 vols., London, 1782, vol. 1, II.

14 Ibidem, XV.

15 Ibid., IX.

16 Ibid., 99.

17 Ibid., 91.

18 Ibid., 9, 111-113, 117.

19 Ibid., 174-175.

20 Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 1759-1767, Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1991, 518.

21 Michael Rosenthal and Martin Myrone, “Thomas Gainsborough: Art, Society, Sociability”, in M. Rosenthal and M. Myrone (eds.), Gainsborough, London : Tate Publishing , 2002, 19.

22 Thomas Gainsborough, Ignatius Sancho, 1768, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. See M. Rosenthal and M. Myrone (eds.), Gainsborough, op. cit., 210.

23 Quoted by M. Rosenthal and M. Myrone, ibid., 13.

24 Ibid., 183.

25 Ibid., 211.

26 Ibid., 128.

27 Ibid., 127, 187, 195.

28 Ibid., 128, 211.

29 Sarah Parsons, “A Conversation of Girls : Wright and British Visual Culture of Slavery 1760-1800”, in Elizabeth Parker and Alex Kidson (eds.), Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, New Haven : Yale UP, 2008, 105-120, 108.

30 E. Parker and A. Kidson, Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, op. cit., 4, 135, 147, 150.

31 The name “lunar” means that the members met once a month on the Monday nearest to the full moon. About Wedgwood’s role see Jenny Uglow, The Lunar Men : the Friends who Made the Future 1730-1810, London : Faber and Faber, 2002, 411-412.

32 Thomas Day, The Dying Negro, London, 1773, 4.

33 T. Day, The Dying Negro, 1793 edition, 73.

34 Ibidem, 76.

35 James Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism, 2nd ed., Edinburgh, 1776, 509, 512.

36 William Roscoe, The Wrongs of Africa : a Poem, London, 1787, 2.

37 William Roscoe, A General view of the African Slave Trade, London, 1788, 8.

38 Joseph Wright of Derby, A Conversation of Girls, 1769, Private Collection. See E. Barker and A. Kidson, (eds.), 155.

39 Stephen Daniels, Joseph Wright, London : Tate Gallery Publishings, n.d., 32.

40 E. Parker and A. Kidson (eds.), Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, op.cit., 150.

41 Ibidem, 108.

42 E. Parker , “Swallowing up all the Business : Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool”, in E. Parker and A. Kidson (eds.), Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, op.cit., 62.

43 E. Parker and A. Kidson, ibidem, 160-161.

44 Ibid., 164-165.

45 The kneeling black man is a topos of anti-slavery literature.

46 The urn is an element of classicism such as those used in Reynolds’s portraits, aiming at giving portraiture some of the dignity of history painting.

47 Joshua Reynolds, Idler, 82 (1759) in Works, 2nd ed., 3 vols., London, 1798, vol.2, 235-243, 240-241.

48 See David Mannings (ed.), Joshua Reynolds: a Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols., New Haven : Yale University Press, 2000.

49 Martin Postle (ed.), Joshua Reynolds : the Creation of Celebrity, London: Tate Publishing, 2005, 138. As David Bindman puts it,“the chattel slave in grand portraits is both savage and ceremonial object, who might notionally return to nature if the trappings of civility were removed”. See D. Bindman, Ape to Apollo: Aesthetics and the Idea of Race in the Eighteenth Century, Ithaca (NY): Cornell UP, 2002, 42.

50 Joshua Reynolds, Omai, c.1776, Private Collection. See Martin Postle, The Creation of Celebrity, op. cit., 218.

51 See David Mannings, A Complete Catalogue, op. cit., vol. 1, 357.

52 James Boswell, Life of Johnson [1791], R.W. Chapman (ed.), Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1998, 723.

53 Georg Forster, A Voyage round the World, 2 vols., London, 1777, vol.1, 388-389.

54 Martin Postle, The Creation of Celebrity, op. cit., 215.

55 David Mannings, A Complete Catalogue, op. cit., vol.1, 408.

56 Harriet Guest,“Curiously Marked: Tattoing, Masculinity and Nationality in Eighteenth-Century British Perception of the South Pacific”, Paintings and the Politics of Culture : New Essays on British Art 1700-1850, John Barrell (ed.), Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1982, 101, 106.

57 G. Forster, A Voyage, op. cit., vol.1, 388.

58 Ibidem, vol.1, 389.

59 David Mannings, A Complete Catalogue, op. cit., vol.1, 357.

60 Ibidem, vol.1, 357.

61 G. Forster, A Voyage round the World, op. cit., 389.

62 Quoted by Paul Staiti, “Accounting for Copley”, in Carrie Rebora and Paul Staiti (eds.), John Singleton Copley in America, New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995, 40.

63 Ann Uhry Abrams,“Politics, Prints, and John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark”, The Art Bulletin, LXI-2, June 1979, 265-276, 268.

64 John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778, National Gallery of Art, Washington. See Emily Ballew Neff (ed.), John Singleton Copley in England, London : Merrell Holberton Publishers, 1995, 105.

65 Roger B. Stein, “Copley’s Watson and the Shark and Aesthetics in the 1770s”, Discoveries and Considerations: Essays on Early American Literature and Aesthetics, in Calvin Israel (ed.), Albany : State University of New York Press, 1976, 122.

66 E. Ballew Neff, John Singleton Copley, op. cit., 107.

67 Ibidem, 141.

68 R. Stein, “Copley’s Watson and the Shark and Aesthetics in the 1770s” in Discoveries and Considerations, op. cit., 112. This is emphasized by the horizontality of the picture, which is no longer the case in a later, vertical version.

69 Quoted in E. Ballew Neff, John Singleton Copley, op. cit., 81.

70 Albert Boime, The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century, Washington : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990, 21.

71 Irma B. Jaffe, “John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark”, The American Art Journal, IX-1, May 1977, 15-25, 19.

72 Hugh Honour, L’Image du noir dans l’art occidental, Marie-Geneviève de La Coste Messelière (trad.), Paris : Gallimard, 1989, 38 ;

73 David Dabyden, Hogarth’s Blacks : Images of Blacks in Eighteenth-Century English Art, Kingston upon Thames : Dangaroo Press, 1985, 44.

74 Kay Dian Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement : Picturing the British West Indies, 1700-1840, New Haven : Yale University Press, 2008, 99.

75 David Bindman, Mind-Forg’d Manacles:William Blake and Slavery, London : Hayward Gallery Publishing, 2007, 39.

76 William Gaunt, Turner, London : Phaidon Press, 1971, 43.

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Élisabeth Martichou, « Bridging the Gap between Self and Other ? Pictorial Representation of Blacks in England in the Middle of the Eighteenth Century », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XIII-n°3 | 2015, mis en ligne le 17 juillet 2015, consulté le 18 novembre 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/8735 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.8735

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Élisabeth Martichou

Élisabeth Martichou, maître de conférences à l’université Paris 13, membre du centre de recherche PLEIADE (ex CRIDAF) travaille sur l’art britannique au dix-huitième siècle. Ses publications portent en particulier sur la théorie des arts visuels (Reynolds, Spence, Barry), sur les représentations picturales (représentations de l’esclavage, présence du théâtre chez Zoffany) ainsi que sur la sociabilité artistique en France et en Angleterre (salons et expositions, académies).

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