Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape
On View: American Art Galleries, 5th Floor, From Colonies to States, 1660–1830
Commissioned by the British government, the Italian artist Agostino Brunias created a series of paintings capturing the complex social and racial hierarchies of plantation life on the newly acquired British island of Dominica. Here, on the grounds of a sugar plantation, two mixed-race sisters wearing European-style clothing appear at center alongside their mother (at left), two children, and eight African servants. Brunias signaled the women’s elite status based on subtleties of skin color and dress, as well as space, foregrounding them in a position typically occupied by white settlers in traditional British “conversation pieces” (informal group portraits). While this idyllic scene seemingly endorses the cultural and racial hybridity of the region, it also projects a colonial fantasy that erases enslaved labor.
Oil on canvas
20 x 26 1/8 in. (50.8 x 66.4 cm)
frame: 25 1/2 x 31 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (64.8 x 80 x 6.4 cm) (show scale)
Gift of Mrs. Carll H. de Silver in memory of her husband, by exchange and gift of George S. Hellman, by exchange
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Agostino Brunias (Italian, ca. 1730-1796). Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape, ca. 1770-1796. Oil on canvas, 20 x 26 1/8 in. (50.8 x 66.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Carll H. de Silver in memory of her husband, by exchange and gift of George S. Hellman, by exchange, 2010.59 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2010.59_PS6.jpg)
overall, 2010.59_PS6.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2011
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