The Black Female Figure – 黑人女性形象

In 1864, the renowned abolitionist stronghold of Boston no doubt seemed the perfect place for Mary Edmonia Lewis to regroup after her trial in Oberlin, Ohio, and veritable expulsion from college. The community that boasted the first co-educational and racially inclusive school had failed to protect her from the prolific racism that permeated the US. Yet, the little we know of this eminent 19th-century sculptor demonstrates that Lewis was nothing if not resilient. 

Her erasure from art history is a manifestation of the pervasive neglect of women artists of colour. With great intelligence and tenacity,  Lewis created a space for herself within the exclusive and competitive world of 19th-century Neoclassical sculpture, embarking on a career at a time when its ranks were filled almost exclusively with upper-class, white men. In the 1850s, when the majority of African Americans in the US were still in bondage, Lewis – who was born in 1844 of Chippewa and African ancestry – decided to become an artist. To the average white American – even to sympathetic abolitionists – her dream would have seemed preposterous. Yet, by the late 19th century, at the pinnacle of Neoclassicism’s popularity, she had become an international superstar with her own Roman studio and celebrity and royal patronage on both sides of the Atlantic. Lewis was one of a handful of US-born people of colour to partake in the Grand Tour. The material practices, aesthetics, ideals and priorities of Neoclassicism – as well as the attendant intellectual and social demands of its cliquish, jealous and gossipy community – were designed to exclude all but a tiny elite.

Understanding the improbability of Lewis’s stunning accomplishments entails a recognition of the naked human body as the focal point of Neoclassical sculpture. The body required raison d’être or narrative structure to justify its bare state. Through the austere abstraction of white marble and the use of religious, ideal or ancient themes, unclothed bodies were transformed into art: nudes fit for intellectual contemplation. However, other than the sculpture Night (Two Sleeping Children) (1870), if Lewis sculpted nudes, they have yet to be found. Yet, her extant sculptures demonstrate a clear progression in her hard-won mastery of the human form. 

In the 19th century, the sculptor’s skill was developed via two key educational pathways: life-drawing classes in art schools and the medical study of cadavers. However, both routes were summarily closed to most women and people of colour. But while Lewis’s white, female contemporaries, such as Harriet Hosmer and Anne Whitney, gained access to the requisite study of human anatomy through family money and private tutors, Lewis had no such connections to exploit. Remarkably, in an art form that demanded years of careful anatomical study, Lewis was largely self-taught.


The Black Female Figure - 黑人女性形象

Photograph of Mary Edmonia Lewis, c.1870. Courtesy: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

She embellished her spotty early biography with stories of an ‘exotic’ childhood, raised amongst her mother’s indigenous family, seemingly contrived to pander to white curiosity. Quickly surmising the media’s questionable racial motivations, Lewis learned to exploit journalistic interest, peppering her interviews with tantalizing and improbable tidbits about her cultural awakening to Western ‘civilization’.1 Yet, she was also deeply proud of her heritage and defiantly proclaimed that she was a mixed-race woman with no European blood. 

Supposedly born in upstate New York and orphaned at an early age, Lewis was taken in by her mother’s nomadic family, who exposed her to various forms of cultural production. Mentored by an older brother, she was sent to study at Oberlin College in the early 1860s, where nascent signs of her artistic abilities were revealed in the pencil sketch The Muse Urania (1862), a wedding gift for a classmate. After being accused and tried for the alleged poisoning of fellow students with Spanish fly, Lewis was successfully defended by the famous black lawyer John Mercer Langston. However, she did not escape Oberlin unscathed – physically or mentally. During her trial in the winter of 1862, Lewis was attacked by a mob, savagely beaten, stripped and left for dead. Although exonerated, Lewis was unable to graduate as the college refused to let her re-enrol. 

In Boston, Lewis encountered an abolitionist hub where activists including William Lloyd Garrison fought for the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Garrison furnished her with letters of introduction and the sculptor Edward Brackett provided sculpting tools, a few lessons and words of encouragement. Lewis’s first studio was in the Studio Building on 89 Tremont Street, where she welcomed patrons such as Maria Weston Chapman, the editor of the anti-slavery journal The Non-Resistant, and the activist and writer Lydia Maria Child. Boston also provided Lewis with access to professional black artists.
It is likely that she and the African-Canadian landscape painter Edward Mitchell Bannister, who lived at 85 Tremont Street, became familiar. Both Bannister and Lewis exhibited portraits of the martyred, northern, white abolitionist hero, Robert Gould Shaw, who died in 1863 while leading the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry – the first all-black regiment in the Civil War.


The Black Female Figure - 黑人女性形象

Mary Edmonia Lewis, Morning of Liberty/Forever Free, 1867, marble, 105 x 56 x 43 cm. Courtesy: Howard University Art Gallery, Washington, D.C.

 With money earned from the sale of the small Shaw bust, Lewis purchased her passage to Europe. Her passport application listed her as a four-foot-tall, 20-year-old woman of black complexion.2 Setting sail in August of 1865, Lewis suffered racist indignities on board which she related in a letter to Child. The steamships that criss-crossed the Atlantic did not offer luxury to all. Rather, black passengers and other ‘undesirables’ were often denied cabins, regardless of financial means, and had to make the crossing in steerage or even, dangerously, above deck. 

After visiting London, Paris and Florence, Lewis arrived in Rome in early 1866, where she quickly established a studio. The social world of Rome was full of wealthy, white expatriates with the means to uproot entire families for years at a time for travel, intellectual pursuits and cultural education. The American actress Charlotte Cushman, the novelists Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James, the sculptor William Wetmore Story and politicians including Charles Sumner socialized, schemed and made art side-by-side, often with great rivalry and open hostility for each other. 

James soon lumped Lewis into his disparagingly named ‘white, marmorean flock’.3Although Hosmer, Louisa Lander, Lewis, Lavinia ‘Vinnie’ Ream Hoxie, Emma Stebbins, Whitney and others had shared an informal support network, not a uniform artistic vision, James, Story and other white men were clearly both jealous and weary of these independent women. They had reason to be. Each, in her own way, defied the claustrophobic norms of sex and gender to embark upon professional artistic careers in a foreign country and, in many cases, to reject heteronormative social mores – such as marriage and motherhood – altogether. Indeed, Cushman and Stebbins were romantic partners and Hosmer, too, pursued same-sex relationships. 

Yet, while Lewis was often described as an ‘exotic’ member of ‘the flock’, her class identity also positioned her as an outsider. Her wealthy, white peers could prioritize artistic ambition over patronage and sales; once in Rome, however, Lewis began sculpting copies of canonical artworks to sell to tourists for her upkeep. Indeed, correspondence from Lewis and others demonstrates that she was often in dire financial straits.4 However, against the vigorous disapproval of conditional supporters like Child – who thought her too untutored and ambitious for her own good – she also immediately embarked upon her first original works. Morning of Liberty (Forever Free) (1867) is an ambitious two-figure sculpture of a standing black man and a kneeling, prayerful black woman celebrating their emancipation. Unlike Thomas Ball’s Emancipation Memorial (c.1866) and John Quincy Adams Ward’s The Freedman (1863), Lewis’s proud, black male is not crouching at a benevolent Abraham Lincoln’s feet nor merely contemplating standing, an act which symbolized the attainment of manhood. Rather, Lewis’s black male is erect and already clearly a man. With his foot trampling a ball and chain and his right hand caressing the woman’s shoulder, they are one unit, a family and he is their protector – a status strategically denied to black males within Transatlantic Slavery.


The Black Female Figure - 黑人女性形象

Mary Edmonia Lewis, Death of Cleopatra, 1876, marble, 160 x 79 x 117 cm. Courtesy: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., Gift of the Historical Society of Forest Park


While many of her white contemporaries were also abolitionists and sculpted black and indigenous subjects, Lewis did so in ways that defied racial stereotypes. Of particular note is her series based upon Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ (1855) and her mournful and sympathetic depiction of Hagar (1875). In the former sculptures, Lewis represented moments in the narrative of the Onondaga and Mohawk warrior Hiawatha and his ill-fated love for the tragic (fictional) maiden Minnehaha. Lewis’s approach was in stark contrast to that of her white male contemporaries – such as Erastus Dow Palmer’s The White Captive (1858–59) and Indian Girl, or The Dawn of Christianity (1855–56) and Hiram Powers’s The Last of the Tribes (1876–77) – who explored themes of indigenous violence, ‘civilization’ and Manifest Destiny. Meanwhile, Lewis’s choice to imagine the prayerful Egyptian Hagar alone and desperate, cast out from Abraham and Sarah’s home after the usefulness of her womb had been exploited, would have resonated powerfully with black Americans and abolitionists as a sympathetic rendering of an African enslaved woman. But her crowning success was Death of Cleopatra (1876), the African queen who, by the 19th century, had come to symbolize the Black Diaspora.6 Displayed at the 1876 ‘Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition’,Lewis’s composition and narrative choice surpassed those of her peers, such as Story, who had depicted Cleopatra contemplating suicide. In the aftermath of the Civil War (1861–65), newly freed African Americans hoped to be embraced fully as citizens of their nation. Instead, various branches of the US government strategically imposed laws and codes that restricted political access as well as physical and social mobility, while white communities and organizations terrorized and lynched black people with impunity. In the midst of the violent failure of postwar ‘Reconstruction’, Lewis’s Cleopatra was shockingly and graphically dead, the audience made to witness the slackening body of a fresh corpse on the throne. Her groundbreaking and realistic rendering of death – captured in the inclined head and the lifeless left arm draped dramatically over the side of the throne – prophesied the stylistic shift towards Modernism, the rise of which in Paris would soon sound the death knell for the stoic Neoclassical style and a shift away from Rome.

As Neoclassicism declined, most of Lewis’s white peers returned home to the US. Having completed several transatlantic voyages to exhibit sculptures, however, the thought of returning to a nation where the recent gains of emancipation were being openly challenged by the state and white citizens alike must have seemed incomprehensible to Lewis. Her veritable disappearance in this period was a product not only of the fading popularity of Neoclassicism, but also of her lack of a contemporaneous archivist and biographer, unlike her peers Cushman, Hosmer and Story. It is unclear precisely when Lewis moved to London, but it is there that she died on 17 September 1907 and was buried in plot 350C in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green. Lewis’s renaissance is justified not only by her obvious artistic talent and achievements, but by her much-deserved rise in a racist (art)world in which all of the odds were stacked against her. As the first black American and the first indigenous person, of either sex, to achieve professional status and international acclaim as a sculptor, Lewis was no doubt a beacon for many of the artists of colour who followed in her footsteps. Since her inclusion in publications such as Lynda Roscoe Hartigan’s Sharing Traditions: Five Black Artists in Nineteenth-Century America (1985) and Whitney Chadwick’s Women, Art and Society (1990), there has been a steady increase in scholarly attention and Lewis’s sculptures are now part of prized art collections including the Baltimore Museum of Art, The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Published in Frieze Masters, issue 7, 2018, with the title ‘Trail Blazer’.

1  Charmaine A. Nelson, ‘The Black Queen in the White Body: Edmonia Lewis and the Dead Queen’, The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007, p. 174
2  Charmaine A. Nelson, ‘Dismembering the Flock: Difference and the “Lady-Artists”’, The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007, p. 9
3  Nelson, ‘Dismembering the Flock’, Op. cit. p. 10
4  Nelson, ‘Dismembering the Flock’, Op. cit. pp. 20, 22
5  Thomas A. Foster, ‘The Sexual Abuse of Black Men under American Slavery’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 20/3 (September 2011), pp. 445–64
6  Nelson, ‘The Black Queen in the White Body’, Op. cit.  p. 159

Main image: Mary Edmonia Lewis, Night (Two Sleeping Children) (detail), 1870, marble, 61 x 50 x 38 cm. Courtesy: Baltimore Museum of Art

Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson

Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson is a professor of art history at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Issue 7

First published in Issue 7

September 2018

Features /

Mary Edmonia Lewis
Howard University Art Museum
Frieze Masters 7
Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson

1864年,波士顿著名的废奴主义据点无疑是玛丽·爱德蒙娜·刘易斯在俄亥俄州奥伯林受审并被逐出大学后重新集结的理想地方。自诩为第一所男女同校、种族包容的学校的社区未能保护她免受遍及美国的多产种族主义的侵害。然而,我们对这位19世纪杰出的雕塑家所知甚少,这表明刘易斯一无是处,即使没有弹性。她从艺术史上抹去的痕迹,也是普遍忽视有色女艺术家的表现。刘易斯凭借极高的智慧和坚韧不拔的精神,在19世纪新古典主义雕塑这个排他性和竞争性的世界中为自己创造了一个空间,在她的职业生涯中,几乎全部都是上层阶级的白人。在19世纪50年代,当大多数美国黑人仍然处于奴役状态时,刘易斯——出生于1844年的齐佩瓦和非洲血统——决定成为一名艺术家。对于普通的美国白人——甚至对于同情的废奴主义者——来说,她的梦想似乎都是荒谬的。然而,到了19世纪末,在新古典主义盛行的顶峰时期,她已经成为了一个国际巨星,拥有自己的罗马工作室、名人和皇室赞助人。大西洋两岸。Lewis是美国出生的少数几个参加盛大巡回演出的人之一。新古典主义的物质实践、美学、理想和优先事项,以及随之而来的贵族、嫉妒者和流言蜚语社区的知识和社会需求,都是为了排斥少数精英。要理解刘易斯惊人的成就是不可能的,就需要承认裸露的人体是新古典主义雕塑的焦点。身体需要一个“X”或“叙事”结构来证明其裸露的状态。通过对白色大理石的严格抽象和宗教、理想或古代主题的运用,脱身的身体变成了艺术:裸体适合于智力沉思。然而,除了雕刻之夜(两个沉睡的孩子)(1870),如果刘易斯雕刻裸体,他们还没有被发现。然而,她现存的雕塑在她对人类形态的来之不易的掌握中显示出了明显的进步。在十九世纪,雕塑家的技能是通过两个重要的教育途径发展的:艺术学校的生活绘画课和尸体的医学研究。然而,这两条路线对大多数妇女和有色人种都是封闭的。但是,尽管Lewis的白人、女性同时代人,如Harriet Hosmer和Anne Whitney,通过家庭的钱和私人的导师获得了对人体解剖学的必要的研究,但是Lewis没有这样的联系来利用。值得注意的是,在一项需要多年细致解剖学研究的艺术形式中,Lewis基本上是自学成才的。摄影:MyyayEdMuniaLeWuxc。1870。Mary Edmonia Lewis,1870年的照片,The Black Female Figure - 黑人女性形象照片。礼貌:史密森美国艺术博物馆,华盛顿特区。她用她母亲的土著家庭中抚养的“异国情调”的童年故事来修饰她那斑驳的早期传记,似乎是为了迎合白人的好奇心而设计的。刘易斯迅速猜测了媒体可疑的种族动机,学会了利用新闻兴趣,在采访中插播一些诱人的、不可思议的关于她对西方“文明”的文化觉醒的趣闻。刘易斯自称是混血妇女,没有欧洲血统。据说她出生于纽约州北部,很小就成了孤儿。刘易斯被她母亲的游牧家庭收养,他们让她接触了各种形式的文化生产。在哥哥的指导下,她于1860年代初被送到奥伯林学院学习,在那里,她艺术能力的新生迹象在铅笔素描《乌拉尼亚缪斯》(1862)中得以显现,这是一件送给同学的结婚礼物。刘易斯因涉嫌用西班牙苍蝇毒害学生而受到指控和审判后,著名的黑人律师约翰·默瑟·朗斯顿成功地为刘易斯辩护。然而,她没有逃脱奥伯林的身心创伤。在1862冬季的审判中,Lewis遭到暴徒的袭击,野蛮殴打,被剥夺并留下死亡。刘易斯虽然无罪,但是由于学院拒绝让她重新入学,她无法毕业。在波士顿,刘易斯遇到了一个废奴主义中心,在那里,包括威廉·劳埃德·加里森在内的积极分子为解放被奴役的非洲裔美国人而斗争。加里森给她提供了介绍信,雕刻家爱德华·布莱克特提供了雕刻工具、一些课程和鼓励的话语。刘易斯的第一个工作室在特雷蒙街89号的工作室大楼,在那里她欢迎诸如玛丽亚·韦斯顿·查普曼、反奴隶制杂志《非抵抗者》的编辑、活动家和作家丽迪娅·玛丽亚·查尔德等赞助人。波士顿还为路易斯提供专业黑人艺术家的机会。她可能和居住在特雷蒙街85号的非裔加拿大风景画家爱德华·米切尔·班尼斯特变得熟悉了。班尼斯特和刘易斯都展出了这位殉难的北方白人废奴主义英雄罗伯特·古尔德·肖的画像,他死于1863年,当时领导着马萨诸塞州志愿步兵第54团——内战中第一个全黑的团。Mary_edmonia_lewis_._of_.tyforever_free_1867_marble_105_x_56_x_43_cm._courtesy_howard_university_art_gallery_washington_d.c.The Black Female Figure - 黑人女性形象 Mary Edmonia Lewis, Morning of.ty/Forever Free, 1867, marble, 105 x 56 x 43 cm.礼貌:霍华德大学美术馆,华盛顿特区。刘易斯用出售肖像半身像赚的钱购买了去欧洲的通行证。她的护照申请把她列为一个身高4英尺、20岁、肤色黑黝黝的妇女。2 1865年8月,刘易斯启航时,船上遭到种族歧视的侮辱,她在给孩子的一封信中说。纵横交错的大西洋轮船并没有给所有人带来奢侈。相反,黑人乘客和其他“不受欢迎的人”常常被拒之门外,不论经济状况如何,而且不得不在甲板上乘坐舵或甚至危险地通过甲板。路易斯在访问伦敦、巴黎和佛罗伦萨之后,于1866年初抵达罗马,在那里迅速建立了自己的国家。演播室。罗马的社会世界充斥着富有的白人侨民,他们有能力连年背井离乡,进行旅行、智力追求和文化教育。美国女演员夏洛特·库什曼、小说家纳撒尼尔·霍桑和亨利·詹姆斯、雕塑家威廉·韦特莫尔故事和包括查尔斯·萨姆纳在内的政客们将艺术社会化、策划并排地制作,常常彼此之间充满敌意和公开的敌意。詹姆斯很快就把刘易斯赶下台。3虽然荷马、路易莎·兰德、刘易斯、拉维尼娅·芬妮·里姆·霍克西、埃玛·斯蒂宾斯、惠特尼等人曾共享过一个非正式的支持网络,但并没有统一的艺术视野,但詹姆斯、斯托里和其他白人显然都嫉妒和嫉妒。厌倦了这些独立的女人。他们有理由这样做。他们各自以自己的方式藐视性和性别的幽闭恐惧规范,在国外从事专业艺术职业,在许多情况下完全拒绝异己的社会习俗,如婚姻和母性。的确,库什曼和斯蒂宾斯是浪漫的伴侣,荷马也追求同性关系。然而,虽然刘易斯经常被形容为“异国情调”的“一群人”中的一员,但她的阶级身份也使她成为局外人。她的富有的白人同龄人可以优先考虑艺术抱负而不是赞助和销售;然而,一旦到了罗马,刘易斯就开始雕刻经典艺术品的副本,以卖给游客以维持生活。的确,刘易斯和其他人的来信表明她经常处于严重的财政困境。4然而,面对像Child这样的有条件的支持者的强烈反对——他们认为她太没有教养,太野心勃勃——她也立即走上了自己的第一条道路。原创作品。自由之晨(永远自由)(1867)是一座雄心勃勃的两人雕塑,雕刻的是一个站着的黑人男子和一个跪着的、祈祷的黑人妇女庆祝他们的解放。与托马斯·鲍尔的解放纪念碑(约1866年)和约翰·昆西·亚当斯·沃德的《自由人》(1863年)不同,刘易斯的骄傲的黑人男性并不蹲在仁慈的亚伯拉罕·林肯的脚下,也不仅仅是想着站起来,这种行为象征着男人的成就。相反,Lewis的黑人男性是直立的,显然已经是一个男人了。他的脚踩着球和链子,右手抚摸着女人的肩膀,他们是一个整体,一个家庭,他是她们的保护者——在跨大西洋奴隶制中,黑人男性的战略地位被剥夺了。Mary_edmonia_lewis_._of_cleopatra_1876_marble_160_x_79_x_117_cm._courtesy_smithsonian_american_art_._washington_d.c._._of_the_the_._._of_of_._.礼貌:史密森美国艺术博物馆,华盛顿特区,森林公园历史学会的礼物。虽然她的许多白人同时代人也是废奴主义者,雕刻黑人和土著主题,刘易斯却以反抗种族陈规的方式这样做。特别值得注意的是她的系列根据亨利·华兹华斯·朗费罗的史诗《Hiawatha之歌》(1855)和她对夏加(1875)的悲哀而富有同情心的描写。在以前的雕塑中,刘易斯描绘了奥农达加和莫霍克战士Hiawatha以及他对悲剧(虚构)少女Minnehaha的不幸爱情的叙事时刻。Lewis的做法截然相反。


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