Brunias: Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape

Around 1764, the British government sent the painter Agostino Brunias to the West Indies to represent the islands’ multiethnic population. The figures in Brunias’s British colonial paintings present a spectrum of skin tones and often demonstrate the failure of traditional European markers to convey racial identity and status in the New World. Here, in the company of their African servants, two prosperous Caribbean-born women of mixed race wear fine pearls and European clothing. One of them, apparently the mistress of the plantation on the island of Dominica, gestures to a blond boy who may be her son.

Brunias’s pictures were conspicuously displayed in elite Dominican interiors, where, as symbols of status and wealth, they reflected and reinforced the aristocratic pretensions of the island’s new moneyed class of sugar planters.