*** artists illustrating boys fashions: Michael George Brennan

Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Agostino Brunias (Italy/West Indies, c1730-96)

 Agostino Brunias

Figure 1.-- This Brunias painting has been describes as "Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape". We are not sure who wrote the desriptopn, Brunias or the Brooklyn Musdeum where it is held. Servants of couse meant slaves. Brunmias gave a lot of attention to free women of color and actually married. No one else painted then with such dignity and status. The painting is undated, but would have been painted any tume 1770-1796. The location is unknown, but would have most likely been Dominica or St. Vincent. The African boys at the right would have been slave children. Notice tht their livery is the same as the adult male slaves in the background. Compare this with George Morland's work.

Brunias is a rare Italian artists who did not paint Italy and Italian scenes. Instead he painted The West Indies at a time that slavery was in full boom, the late-18th century. Given his focus on the West Indies and the fact that he moved to and died in Dominica he is an imortant source on slavery. He also spent a great deal of time on St. Vincent. Thus it seems appropriatre to classify him as a West Indian artist as well as Italian. We know of no other artists that provided so many paintings and drawings on the West Indies and enslaved people that he actually observed. We know next to nothing of his early life. We do not even have a confirmed birth date, but it was in Rome, probably about 1730. Most of his work depicted the West Infdes, many including enslaved people. After graduating from the Accademia di San Luca, he begn painting in ome. We know nothing of his early works. He befriended prominent Scottish architect Robert Adam and went with him to Britain. It was there he met Antiguan-born Sir William Young. Prime Minister George Grenville had Young appointed to be President of the Commission for the Sale of Lands in the Ceded Islands--Caribben sugar islands. The islands included Grenada, Tobago, Dominica, and St Vincent, that had been acquired from France as a result of the 1763 Peace of Paris ending the Seven Years War. (France kept Guadalupe and Martinique in exchange for ceding Canada.) Young commissioned Brunias to record his activities. Brunias left for the British West Indies to pursue. Although he was primarily commissioned to paint Young and the wealthy planter families and their plantations. He painted many scenes depicting free people of colour and cultural life including the slaves. We are not sure to whom he intended selling these painyings to. We can't imagine planter families would be interested. He appears to have brought hus paintings back to England where he sold them. We are not sure how they were received or what prices they commanded. Brunias spent most of his time in the West Indies on the island of Dominica, where he would die (1796). He also spent considerable time in St. Vincent and visited other islands, includung Haiti. Unfortunately he did not commonly identify the island where the paintings were done. Most were Dominican or St. Vincent scenes. Historians differ on their assessments. Some describe his depiction of West Indian culture as suversive. One contemprary admirer was Haitian revolutionary leader, Toussaint Louverture, Others criticised, especially abolitionist leaders. His work are nothing like those abolituionists distributed. They were bothered because Brunias seems to romaticize slavery and captures none of the harshness and brutality of the slave system. We are sure the woke among us would agree and actually this also occurred to us. Brunias does fdepicr some slaves working, but not in the cane fields. He does not show them being punished. But his images do something the Abolitionists never do, he depicted people of color, both slaves and free, in a dignified way, people that were fully human, as cultured and capable as the white planter class. As far as we know, Brunias did not hold racist views--unusuall at the time. He married a free multto woman and had two children with her in Dominica. He lived with them and died in Diminica (1796).


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Created: 2:03 AM 3/22/2022
Last updated: 2:03 AM 3/22/2022