The Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University and the Musée d’Orsay partner to present an exhibition entitled Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today in New York and Le Modèle noir, de Géricault à Matisse in Paris.
This exhibition explores the changing modes of representation of the black figure as central to the development of modern art. The models’ interactions with and influences on painters, sculptors and photographers are highlighted through archival photographs, correspondence and films. The artists featured in the exhibition depicted black subjects in a manner counter to typical representations of the period. The works included highlight the little-known, multiracial aspect of each artist’s milieu.
In New York, the presentation focuses specifically on the black female figure, beginning with Edouard Manet’s 1860s portrayals of Laure, the model who posed as the maid in Olympia. In Paris, a broader and expanded treatment of the black figure begins with portaits by Marie-Guillemine Benoist and Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault at the start of the 19th century.
In both New York and Paris, the exhibition explores the work of Manet’s Impressionist-era cohort, including Frédéric Bazille, Edgar Degas and the photographer Nadar; sculptors including Charles Henri Joseph Cordier and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux; paintings, drawings and prints of Henri Matisse (before and after his 1930s Harlem visits); the portraiture of diverse artists of the Harlem Renaissance, including Charles Alston and William H. Johnson; and the legacy of these depictions for successive generations of postwar modern and contemporary artists, from Romare Bearden through to the current moment.
By taking a multidisciplinary approach that focuses on the connection between the history of art and the history of ideas, the exhibition will study aesthetic, political, social and racial issues as well as the realm of the imagination—all of which is revealed in the representation of black figures in visual arts from the French and American abolition eras to the present day.