Pike Street, Seattle by Mark Tobey

Object of the Week: Pike Street, Seattle

“The Market will always be within me. Established back in 1907 by the farmers themselves—not for the tourist trade, but as a protest against the high prices paid to commission men—it has been for me a refuge, an oasis, a most human growth, the heart and soul of Seattle. . . .

For me every day in the Market was a fiesta. But, alas, wars came: the old men I had learned to know died; more and more stalls were empty; the Japanese were sent away. Mrs. Morgan, who ran a flower stand, said, ‘Mr. Tobey, the Market ist deadt’ The years dissolve, and I return to visit the Market. A few old friends remain—the brothers of the fish stall, but the interesting sign above their heads has been stolen. The chairs that ascended the incline directly below them, upon which tired shoppers used to rest, have been torn out. But the main part of the Market is still active, still varied, exciting, and terribly important in the welter of overindustrialization. There is the same magic as night approaches: the sounds fade; there is an extra rustle everywhere; prices drop; the garbage pickers come bending and sorting; the cars leave the street which reflects the dying sun. The windows are all that remain of light as the sun sets over the Olympics. A few isolated figures appear and disappear, and then the Market is quiet, awaiting another day.”1

Mark Tobey, Breaker of Art Traditions – Seattle Times, 1946

The Seattle Times published this bio sketch on Tobey on March 17, 1946. Author Margaret Callahan links Tobey’s penchant for working in the public market to the difficulty he faced in finding an affordable private studio.

ark Tobey and the Public Market

The Seattle Art Museum hosted an exhibition on Mark Tobey and the Public Market in August, 1963, leading to the publication of a book on the same topic: Mark Tobey: The World of a Market (1964). The back cover features this image of Tobey, at home among the papayas.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Pike Street, Seattle, 1941-1942, Mark Tobey (American, born Centerville, Wisconsin, 1890; died Basel, Switzerland, 1976), opaque watercolor with pastel on paper mounted on paperboard, 28 1/4 × 21 3/8in. Gift of the Marshall and Helen Hatch Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2009.52.111 © Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum
1 Mark Tobey, Mark Tobey: The World of a Market, Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1964, introduction
SAM Book Club: I am Madame X

SAM Book Club: I Am Madame X

Welcome back to the inaugural edition of SAM Book Club! Today we’re discussing Gioia Diliberto’s I Am Madame X, and the woman behind John Singer Sargent’s most infamous portrait.

It probably comes as no surprise that Sargent’s 1884 portrait of Madame Virginie Gautreau caused, as they say, a stir. With a neckline that would be classified as a “deep plunge” even by today’s standards, Madame Gautreau’s 19th-century little black dress spoke clearly and unapologetically to the sitter’s sensuality. When you add her bluish-pale skin, the originally dangling shoulder strap, and—most scandalous of all—her wedding ring, you get a picture of a brash, vain, and sexual (married) woman living a century before her time.

Diliberto does an excellent job of capturing (or perhaps reconstructing) this personality. A work of historical fiction in the guise of a memoir, I Am Madame X is told in Virginie’s voice—a particularly poignant approach since her voice, and indeed even her name, had for so long been removed from the portrait. Diliberto relays some of her subject’s frustration and anger at this erasure, in a prologue narrated by the fictional curator Richard Merriweather:

“[Sargent] still calls it Portrait of Madame ***, just as it was titled at the Salon, or simply, Portrait. And he always requests that your name not be communicated to the newspapers. Isn’t that amusing?”

Virginie wasn’t amused at all. In fact, she was furious. “Don’t I have a name?” she cried, rising out of her chair. . . . “If Sargent had any honor, he would call my picture Portrait of Virginie Avegno Gautreau. After all, it is my picture as much as his.”

It was the claim over her own representation that so struck me in reading this passage, and which I returned to over and over throughout the book. Of all the many relationships Virginie has throughout the novel—with her family, with Sargent, with her ill-fated romances—it is the relationship with her physical self that the rest of the narrative hinges on. Her beauty is her calling card, profession, and meal ticket all wrapped up in one, and she cultivates it accordingly. True, much of this is imposed on her by external pressures, most notably her mother (let’s take a minute to remember that dear old mom made Virginie ingest poison to make her skin paler. Parents, amiright?). But ultimately Virginie’s self-determination to secure her status as Most Beautiful Woman in Paris drives much of the novel’s plot. The clothes must be flattering; the hair must be hennaed; and the skin must be near-deathly pale.

Which makes Sargent’s removal of her name from this carefully constructed image—much less the public’s decrying it as ugly—such a twist of the knife. If her whole reputation, persona, even sense of self-empowerment, is tied to her physical appearance, what does it mean to take that identification away?

At the end of the novel Virginie muses about how “everything was changed”, but what really struck me was how much seemed to be the same. The racial and social hierarchies of post-belle époque France and postbellum Louisiana are still very much in play. Virginie has a happy relationship with her daughter, but the girl’s “grand society” marriage to a successful man is still celebrated as a great achievement, exactly as Virginie’s own mother wished for her. And, in the estimation of the prologue’s narrator, “though her figure had become matronly, her finely lined face was still beautiful”—the ultimate “she looks great (for her age).” Everything has changed and everything is the same.

Well, not quite everything: Virginie has reclaimed her representation. She is Madame X.

What did you think of I Am Madame X? Do you agree that her physical appearance was essential to her identity? Did you think she changed by the end of the novel? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for the announcement of next quarter’s book!

Basinjom mask and gown

Object of the Week: Basinjom mask and gown

In one gallery of the Mood Indigo show at the Asian Art Museum—and you’ll know it when you find it—Basinjom presides. He’s an intimidating presence, often stopping folks right in their tracks. My wife insisted she couldn’t look too long at him, or else she would have nightmares.

Basinjom mask and gown

Here in the U.S. most of us have no problem understanding that a name is significant. Baby name books and websites and blogs are an expansive directory, allowing parents to match a name that means something with a vision for their child. Basinjom, literally meaning “God’s Medicine,” carries a purposeful name. He is not just a mask or costume, but a healing masquerade, appearing in Ejagham civilizations in Nigeria and Cameroon, where he acts as a powerful restorative force in his community. He has a spiritual aura that gives clear reason for the first part of his name, but the second part is more esoteric. It’s hard to conceive of him as a “medicine.”

Basinjom mask and gown

SAM curator Pam McClusky explains that “Medicine, in Ejagham terms, is a knowledge of plants and herbs that God provided to fight witches and criminals. Medicine can be manifested in the form of a mask or be located in a container or even a person.”1 When Basinjom is called upon, he acts as detective, judge, and healing agent. He points out the root of witchcraft, which is the seed of discord and ruin in the community, and then banishes it.

Like any medicine, Basinjom is made of many essential ingredients:

  • A knife (isome), an iron instrument whose blade has been perforated with eyes to enable Basinjom to see the place of the witches.
  • A rattle made of wicker to hear the sound that evil makes.
  • Blue feathers of a very strong “war bird,” or touraco, that cannot easily be shot by a gun.
  • Porcupine quills, which prevent intrusion from strong elements, even thunder and lightning.
  • Eyes that act as mirrors to see into other worlds, especially at night.
  • A snout like the mouth of the crocodile, which can speak for the people about controversial things. Eggs are broken over this snout to feed Basinjom.
  • Inside the mouth, a piece of the King Stick, the most powerful tree in the forest, used to protect bodies.
  • On the back of the head, many herbs that have been collected and pounded together with liquids to serve as a medicinal protection. On top, a mirror enables Basinjom to “see behind,” and a small upright peg with an amulet serves as a bodyguard.
  • Deep black and blue cloth, a color that will “not hold death,” because in darkness no human or witch can perceive you.
  • Raffia used for hair and a hem as an element from the forest, a dangerous realm that weak men should avoid.
  • A genet cat skin, invoking the spirit of an animal familiar who snatches fowls and shields Basinjom from harm. Next to Basinjom, eyes of the owl, alluding to enhanced vision in the deep forest and the bird’s long, strange legs.2

Basinjom is unforgettable. There’s a great chance to engage with him tonight at the Art Globally: Indigo Allure event, where there will be plenty of people around to make sure he’s on his best behavior and no nightmares are had!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Basinjom mask and gown, Ejagham, Nigeria and Cameroon, collected 1972, cotton cloth, wood, feathers, porcupine quills, mirrors, herbs, raffia, cowrie shells, rattle, eggshell, knife, genet cat skin, indigo dye, height: 85 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1977, Photo: Stephanie Fink. Basinjom mask and gown (detail), Photo: Natali Wiseman. Basinjom performs in Cameroon, 1973.
1 Pamela McClusky, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, p. 218.
2 Pamela McClusky, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, p. 220.
Self-portrait by Morris Graves

Object of the Week: Self-portrait

One day here at SAM I received a phone call from a visitor who had enjoyed her time at the museum and who had felt particularly attached to a couple of the paintings here, and who was sorely wishing she had written down the name of the artist because his work was really touching. There was one, in particular: It was a portrait (a self-portrait, she wondered?), and the man had a moustache (our van Dyck, I wondered?), and she thought she remembered there were other portraits of the same guy in that room. Ah. Morris Graves.

The facial hair was a helpful descriptor, but so was the defining characteristic this woman singled out when describing the painting: vulnerability.

Graves’s Self-portrait of 1933 is a rare subject for the artist, who most figured was too private a man to put himself out there by painting himself much. Against a soft abstract background, his form emerges, defined by a rhythmic, undulating outline. His head is perched upon an impossibly long neck. He gazes sidelong out of the canvas with a look that wants to tell us something, and many have thought they knew exactly what.

Graves, though, was a hard character to pin down. He was interesting. Frederick Wight, who was director of the Art Gallery at UCLA, met Graves and later described him as “an exceedingly tall thin figure, with large transfixed, rather alarmed eyes . . . He is shy and self-aware to a degree, aloof yet (you suspect) ruthless in his self-determination . . . In short he is very birdlike: receding, private, mobile, and migratory . . . he has the willful steely quality of a bird—its fierce capacity to survive.”

Nancy Wilson Ross, a friend and confidant of Graves’s, called him “mysterious,” saying he carried moods redolent of changing seasons. Ross ended on the same comparison as Wight: “Like the birds Graves knows so intimately, he is a migratory creature; not so much willfully nomadic as purposefully so.”

Author Margaret Callahan attached some curious distinctions to Morris Graves when publishing the photo in The Seattle Times in 1948.

No doubt Graves’s seasons of mood meant that he left different impressions on the many who encountered him. Besides, perceptions vary: “steely” and “birdlike” to one might look like unapproachable and withdrawn or even admirably stoic to another. We might get a totally different animal to fill the metaphor.

Theodore Wolff, an art critic who produced a catalogue essay on Graves, was struck by his encounter with the artist—so moved that he typed up the following letter:

Dear Morris:
Just a word to say how very happy I am to finally have met you. I am most particularly pleased at the extraordinary quality of strength and sturdiness you radiate; you resemble your Joyous Young Pines much more than you do any of your birds (!!).¹

Bird? Pine?

One would think that going to the source would provide clarity, but Graves’s own letters produce more questions, revealing more quirks and intricacies of character. He is alternately kind and sensitive, harsh and resentful. There are moments of resolute pride and of defeated self-doubt. At times Graves is fully convinced of his importance and the value of his art. On December 5, 1932, at an early stage of his career around the time he produced his Self-portrait, he boasted in a letter to his intimate friend Merita Mills:

I know I can paint in all the violent color and draw all the magnificent lines I want to someday, and be thrilled with the results; smug as it sounds, I just am unavoidably sure I can do it.²

The verve with which he began his career finds a sad bookend in the self-deprecation that shows up in some of his last letters. In 1997, Graves wrote to SAM curator Vicki Halper, saying

My painted images have, somehow, only been very minor Shinto haikus trying to communicate my mind’s range of humanitarian, rational, and irrational experiences and ideas.

I’m a fifth-rate rural American painter of the 1930s and 40s. I gladly surmise that you have all along been aware of this.
–Morris³

What makes the Self-portrait so fascinating and magnetic is that it seems to reveal something of how Graves saw himself. But what’s in a self-portrait? Are we really learning anything? As a description of oneself, is it any more truthful than another’s description—or any more complete? For me, a self-portrait does reveal; it just doesn’t reveal everything. No one picture, in paint or in words, could convey all the complexity of Morris or of you or of me, and to think we know him from this painting can’t be quite right.

The Self-portrait doesn’t say everything there is to say about Morris Graves. Gladly, we get more doses of the artist’s self-reflection in the third floor PONCHO Gallery. Hanging right next to Self-portrait is Morning, a painting where the figure, a slender shirtless man, squirms uncomfortably on his bed, a voyeuristic display in front of us. Across the room from these hangs the solitary Moor Swan, a painting Graves exhibited in the 1933 annual show of Northwest artists at SAM, in which it won the big $100 purchase prize. A period photo reproduced here captures Morris with his winning piece, and Morris, it must be said, is looking very birdlike, indeed.

Some have read the Moor Swan as a symbolic self-portrait. I’m okay with that, as long as we remember: He is the bird and the pine; He is the moustache and the swan.

Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Self-portrait, 1933, Morris Graves (born Fox Valley, Oregon, 1910; died Loleta, California, 2001), oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 19 3/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Florence Weinstein in memory of Max Weinstein, 85.268, © Morris Graves Foundation. Photo published by The Seattle Times, 1933, 1945, 1948.
¹Reproduced in Morris Graves: Selected Letters, p. 97.
²Reproduced in Morris Graves: Selected Letters, pp. 254-255.
³Reproduced in Morris Graves: Selected Letters, pp. 316-317.
Joyous Southern Christian Leadership Conference Marchers Outside Jefferson Davis Hotel, Montgomery, Alabama by Dan Budnick

Go Tell It: Civil Rights Photography at Seattle Art Museum

SAM is highlighting a series of documentary photographs exploring the lived experiences of African American men and women during the Civil Rights era, featuring major works from the collection by artists including Dan Budnik, Danny Lyon, Roy deCarava, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Marion Post Wolcott, and others. The exhibition includes a photo series capturing Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Montgomery, a stark image of man entering the “colored” entrance of a movie theater in Jim Crow Mississippi, a powerful image of a black nanny holding a white baby, and lithographic renderings of mugshots that reclaim these stigmatizing documentary portraits.

James Baldwin by Joseph Norman

As a contemporary counterpart to these historical works, the exhibition also features a work by Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary artist, Shikeith, called #Blackmendream. In this documentary video, the artist interviews nine young black men, their bare backs turned to the camera as they answer questions such as: “When did you become a black man? Do you cry? How were you raised to deal with your emotions?”. The resulting film is a poetic take on what it means to occupy a black body today, and an exploration of the emotional lives of black men. The hashtag in the film’s title is an invitation for viewers to respond to the artist’s questions themselves, and to continue discussions about what is happening to people of color in the country today.

Go Tell It: Civil Rights Photography is now on view in the Knight | Lawrence Gallery at the Seattle Art Museum through January 8, 2017.

Images: Joyous Southern Christian Leadership Conference Marchers Outside Jefferson Davis Hotel, Montgomery, Alabama, March 25th, 1965, 1965, Dan Budnick, American, b. 1933, photograph, 11 x 14 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Benham Gallery and Dan Budnik, 2000.42., © Dan Budnik. James Baldwin, 1986, Joseph Norman, 10 x 8 in., lithograph, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph A. Chazan, 2000.26, © Joseph Norman.
The Mom Call by Brian Jungen

Object of the Week: The Mom Call

Eyes gravitate toward Brian Jungen’s work. On the surface, unexpected combinations make us wonder at the artist’s creativity. Looking more deeply, we find Jungen exploring identity in a way that resonates and challenges.

Jungen’s sculptural work The Mom Call acts like a stage where the forces of artistic choice and influence collide. The artist’s choices are unique. They also make very clear references to the life experiences that have shaped him. A combination of family and artistic heritage helped to bring about these choices, and in Jungen’s work, we see the artist physically molding a multi-faceted identity for himself.

In The Mom Call, Jungen has appropriated a chair produced for a notable 1940 design competition. By sampling the winning chair, he brings into his work the exclusive, European, bourgeois connotations linked to high-end design. The chair, though, is swallowed up in American elk hide, which is drawn taut by tarred twine according to traditional Native methods, forming a funny-looking—but functional—drum. Jungen was born in Fort St. John, British Columbia, to a Swiss-Canadian father and a Native mother of the Dane-zaa Nation. That dual heritage plays out in fascinating ways in Jungen’s work, where we can see him navigating his ancestries and finding a place among them.

A defining characteristic to his work is the clever re-use of objects. The creative vision Jungen displays when transforming Nike Air Jordans into Native-inspired masks, or when constructing whale skeleton replicas from petroleum-based plastics, is the meat and potatoes of his artistry, and he traces that habit of re-appropriating back to his mom. As a child, he would watch his mother and her family use objects outside of their original purposes to get stuff done. This “improvisatory recycling,” as Jungen calls it, was driven by necessity, but it also reflected a habit of looking at things for their potential, rather than their intention. Jungen learned from his mother how to be resourceful, how to deconstruct a known thing and create a new meaning for it.

Back to The Mom Call: The clean lines and the industrial, artificial quality of a modern piece of designer furniture give way to a sloping, organic form. The elk hide covers the chair, hiding its details but revealing its form, and changing its use, but not in a one-to-one transition. When we look at The Mom Call, we’re several steps removed from the item’s original function—chair as chair becomes chair as art object becomes chair-drum as functional art object (and museum exhibit, and so on). Influences, uses, interpretations, contexts, and perspectives all come into play. In this piece, Jungen displays original thinking about forms and how they communicate to us.

Tragically, Jungen lost both his parents in a fire when he was just seven. Through his art, the legacy of both his folks, but especially that of his mom—a woman who he says was “always trying to extend the life of things” 1—remains.

P.S. Brian Jungen’s mom made a difference—as moms do! Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all our SAM Blog-reading moms!

Image: The Mom Call, 2011, Brian Jungen (Canadian, born 1970), Organic Chair by Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames, American elk hide, tarred twine, steel, granite, 80 1/4 x 33 x 29 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum, 2014.34, © Brian Jungen, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
1 Source
SAM Member Libby Hughes

For the Love of Art Member Profile: Libby Hughes

LIBBY HUGHES
11th grader
TAG student member

Libby, you’re part of SAM’s Teen Arts Group. Why did you join?
Yes. Because it’s a volunteer service and also because I really, really like art and it sounded really cool to get involved in it.

What do you like about art?
Well, I really like doing art and I like looking at how other people do art and seeing what they think of. What I really like is how people decide to do art, like imagination and stuff like that…

Art is so personal. We have had people sit here and say, “Well, I didn’t like art for a long time and then I realized…”
Well, I used to draw and then became interested in looking at it.

What is your favorite part of TAG?
I really like meeting the people and I really enjoy just interacting with art and doing all these cool things. We did tours for Teen Night Out and just this semester we recorded audio tours which was really cool.

Do you think art is important for society?
Yes, I do. I think it’s a way to express yourself and it triggers emotions. It’s how you portray the world—you’re showing how you see the world to other people.

Do you have a favorite piece of artwork here?
I really like the Italian Room just because I did the audio tour for it. So I learned about it. Yes, I thought it was really interesting. Art-wise, I really like—it’s not out right now but it’s a mouse—looks like a black rat on the bed. That one is my favorite.

Why do you like it?
I don’t know. It’s kind of creepy and I don’t want to be like, “Oh, I like creepy art work,” but I really like artwork where it invokes a lot of emotion. And the first thing you think is, “Oh, that’s creepy” and you think about it a lot and why it’s there. I really like artwork that makes you think.

I like Mann und Mouse. A lot of people like it, actually, which I think is interesting. A lot of kids like it—really little kids. I could see that maybe they think it’s a cute mouse. It’s funny because it is a little bit scary—but little kids are often drawn to scarier things than we give them credit for.
Yes, I think people think kids should be too sheltered but I think people should, even when they are little, know what sadness is and stuff. And artwork can do it.

What role do you think artwork plays in that?
Well, for me it was always a part of it and I always loved to draw and my dad was really into painting, too. He was always showing artwork. I always thought it was a way for people to express themselves. Even things like sadness or dangerous things. I remember when I was little my dad brought home this magazine and it was called High Fructose and all the pictures in it were really creepy, but I thought it was super cool.

Do you know what you want to do when you “grow up”?
I really want to be a character designer for games and stuff.

Do you think being in a museum now relates to that? Is it helping you think about that?
Well, it is definitely a kind of artwork. It’s not exactly the type I was looking at but I do really like looking how other people do it. What kind of artwork other people do and seeing what’s popular and what people like and what’s interesting…

How long have you been part of TAG?
I started last semester and this is my second semester, so about a year now.

Are you going to keep doing it?
Yes, I’m probably going to keep doing it until I graduate. I really like it.

Calling all high-school aged teens—take over the museum during Teen Night Out this Friday, May 6! Get loud with incredible DJs, teen art tours, and art making workshops led by Seattle’s coolest contemporary artists. Free—RSVP on Facebook.

"Country Ball 1989-2012" by Jacolby Satterwhite

Object of the Week: Country Ball 1989-2012

In 2013 SAM acquired a video work by contemporary artist Jacolby Satterwhite that would later feature in the SAM-organized exhibition Disguise: Masks and Global African Art (an iteration of which has just opened at the Brooklyn Museum to wide recognition). Though Disguise was still in the planning stages, Satterwhite’s video, called Country Ball 1989-2012, had so much eclectic visual interest, and it was displayed with such a distinctly digital vision, that it was chosen early on as a representative piece for the Seattle show.

"Country Ball 1989-2012" by Jacolby Satterwhite

Country Ball 1989-2012 is a maelstrom of dancing figures and neon elements, a wild ride for its nearly thirteen minutes of running time. Here’s the artist himself talking through his thoughts and creative process:

Using the whole computer-generated landscape and the various vignettes that appear throughout the video, the artist brings together different modes of communication to create a new way of expressing that is distinctly his. Dance comes to the fore as a versatile language with meaning in a range of contexts. As the artist narrates, the genus of the work lies in a Mother’s Day cookout in the park (by the way, thank you to all the moms!), enlivened by choreographed dance. The artist himself performs dance in eccentric dress to add his own movement and personality to the work. Even the viewer’s perspective seems to dance as it meanders through this dynamic virtual landscape.

Re-presenting a home video and introducing the artist’s original dance performance, and itself being a museum-owned artwork, Country Ball 1989-2012 illustrates what a wide spectrum of contexts and environments feature dance as an act of importance and value.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Country Ball 1989-2012, 2012, Jacolby Satterwhite, HD digital video with color 3D animation and sound, running time 12:39 mins., Seattle Art Museum, Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2013.3, © Jacolby Satterwhite.
19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans: A Book Installation

During the run of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, whose work addresses ideas about identity and representation, the Bullitt Library is featuring a book installation that considers ways in which people of Africa were depicted in 19th-century book illustrations. The works in this installation, considered “costume books,” depict African subjects with an emphasis on clothing, published with the intent of educating an otherwise unacquainted audience. This tradition, derived from European 16th-century illustrated costume books, was created to satisfy a demand for information on dress and manners of both homeland and foreign lands. The depictions of non-European subjects, though beautiful in their presentation, are problematic in that they project a distinctly Western perspective and a lack of drawing from firsthand observation.

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu…

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Published in Paris by the firm of Firmin-Didot et Frères between 1876 and 1888, Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu… by Auguste Racinet (French, 1825–1893) was considered the most wide-ranging study of clothing of its time. Here, Racinet depicts “Senegalese tribesmen and women, from the lands by the River Senegal in Western Sudan” who “are a handsome people who take great care of their appearance.” And although Racinet’s work is an exceptional example of chromolithography, images like the ones shown are derived from a long illustrative tradition whereby images of “exotic” peoples were based on written accounts or secondhand drawings.

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Another work published by Firmin-Didot et Frères is Costumes Anciens et Modernes, a 19th-century reproduction of Cesare Vecellio’s (Italian, 1521–1601) Habiti Antichi et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo, an early costume book published in Venice in an expanded edition in 1598. Firmin-Didot’s version is written in Italian and French and covers the same geographic regions covered by Vecellio’s work.

In this example, we see an ordinary African woman: “Africana di Mediocre Conditione/Africaine de Condition Inférieure.” Referring to Vecellio’s original depictions, one scholar has noted that the images of African costumes, in particular,

“…were participating in ‘translations’ of African dress into costumes for European paintings and theatre. During this process, they accumulated new meanings. The dressed figures were copied from art objects with varying degrees of removal from immediate African encounters and combined with texts from published travel narratives to create mythic bricolages of Africans.”

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

The Clothing of the Renaissance World: Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas: Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Costumes Anciens et Modernes

Additionally, when a comparison is made between Vecellio’s original image and Firmin-Didot’s replication of this particular subject, we see the result is a distinctly more Europeanized version.

This book installation is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm.

—Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Images: Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu… 1876-1888, Paris: Firmin-Didot, Auguste Racinet, French, 1825–1893, SPCOL GT 513 R23 v. 2. The Clothing of the Renaissance World: Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas: Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni, 2008 London; New York: Thames and Hudson, Margaret F. Rosenthal, American (birth date unknown), Ann Rosalind Rosenthal, American (birth date unknown), GT 509 V42 C57 2008. Costumes Anciens et Modernes = Habiti antichi et moderni di tutto il mondo, 1859-60, Paris: Firmin-Didot, Cesare Vecellio, Italian, 1521-1601, Ambroise Firmin-Didot, French, 1790-1876, From a private collection. Photos: Natali Wiseman.