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Woman of African Descent

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

European Art

On View: Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion, 1st Floor
For his last major commission, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, the greatest and best-known sculptor of Second Empire France, created the figural grouping of the four continents for the Fountain of the Observatory in the Luxembourg Gardens. A Negress represents the sculptor's careful ethnographic study for the personification of Africa. Carpeaux included specific allusions to slavery in A Negress: he added the ropes that bind the torso and an inscription, which reads "Pourquoi naître esclave" (Why born a slave?). France had freed its slaves in the colonies in 1848, but the bust A Negress, executed in 1868, referred as well to the recent Emancipation Proclamation of the United States.

The marble version of this work was widely praised when it was exhibited at the Salon of 1869 and was purchased by Emperor Napoleon III.
MEDIUM Plaster with patina; red stone base
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES 1868
    DIMENSIONS a: 13 3/4 x 9 1/4 x 7 in. (34.9 x 23.5 x 17.8 cm) b: 9 x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. (22.9 x 31.8 x 31.8 cm)  (show scale)
    INSCRIPTIONS Incised back of plaster base: "J-B Carpeaux 1868" Incised on front of base: "Pourquoi nĂ¢itre esclave"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion, 1st Floor
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1993.83a-b
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Benno Bordiga, by exchange and Mary Smith Dorward Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, 1827-1875). Woman of African Descent, 1868. Plaster with patina; red stone base, a: 13 3/4 x 9 1/4 x 7 in. (34.9 x 23.5 x 17.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Benno Bordiga, by exchange and Mary Smith Dorward Fund, 1993.83a-b. Creative Commons-BY
    IMAGE overall, 1993.83a-b_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
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