Dance, Dominica, West Indies, 1770s


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Image Reference
NW0156

Source
Painted by Agostino Brunias; engraved print published London (1779). (Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)

Comments
Caption begins "This plate (representing a Negro dance in the island of Dominica) is humbly dedicated...."; shows musical instruments and formal dress found in French West Indies. Another version of this print, with a different dedication, but same title, was also published in London in 1779; a copy of the 1779 print is owned by the Barbados Museum. Whatever the case, this image, like others by Brunias of slave life in the West Indies, conveys a distorted image of the realities of slave life. Agostino Brunias (sometimes incorrectly spelled Brunyas, Brunais), a painter born in Italy in 1730, came to England in 1758 where he became acquainted with William Young. Young had been appointed to a high governmental post in West Indian territories acquired by Britain from France, and in late 1764 Brunias accompanied Young to the Caribbean as his personal artist. Arriving in early 1765, Brunias stayed in the islands until around 1775, when he returned to England (exhibiting some of his paintings in the late 1770s) and visited the continent. He returned to the West Indies in 1784 and remained there until his death on the island of Dominica in 1796. Although Brunias primarily resided in Dominica he also spent time in St. Vincent, and visited other islands, including Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts, and Tobago. See Lennox Honychurch, "Chatoyer's Artist: Agostino Brunias and the Depiction of St Vincent," for what is presently the most informative and balanced discussion of Brunias and his romanticized and idyllic paintings of West Indian scenes and slave life (Jl of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, vol. 50 [2004], pp.104-128); see also Hans Huth, Agostino Brunias, Romano (The Connoisseur, vol. 51 [Dec. 1962], pp. 265-269). This scene shown here is identical to the illustration "danse de negres" published in Nicolas Ponce, Recueil des vues des lieux principaux de la colonie Francaise de Saint-Domingue (Paris, 1791, fig. 26); see image NW0251-a on this website.