Archive for the Caribbean Art Objects Category

“Un mercado de line…”, 1780 – Agostino Brunias

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Basic Facts: “Un mercado de line con un kiosko de lino y vendedor de verduras en las Indias Occidentales” is an oil painting on canvas by Agostino Brunias (1728 – 1796).  The title translates to “A linen market with a linen stall and vegetable seller in the West Indies”.  Brunian is an Italian painter who eventually settled in Dominica.  This painting is in El Museo del Barrio.


Description: “Un mercado…” is a traditional painting, with realistically portrayed subjects and a traditional medium.  There are many components to this painting; it depicts a market scene, which includes people of various races and ages.  There are black women wearing European influenced Caribbean dresses, looking like petit fours, very pretty.  They sit in the linen tent, talking to two fancy-looking mulatto women.  Then there are some Caucasian red coats flirting with native women next to the tent.  Farther in the background is a topless woman carrying a basket on her head. Beyond her a small crowd gathers to watch two teenage boys, wearing nothing but white knickers and headbands, engage in hand-to-hand combat.  In the right foreground, a woman breast-feeds her naked baby as those around her tend to vegetables such as corn.  A green mountain looms in the background, with a faint blue ocean in the left background.

À mon avis: Brunias’ painting is a traditional painting, but, for his time, it did express a unique acceptance of the mixing of peoples.  He portrays Europeans, natives, and mulattos interacting without tension.


The painting exhibits a traditional sense of beauty (realistic features, chiaroscuro, traditional medium of oil, et cetera); however it is the diversity Brunias presents that captured my attention.  It reminds me of Haiti, all the blends we have.  My own family, my maternal side, is a mix of white and black and mulatto; European and African and native Haitians, all living a country where you can munch Caribbean sweets from street vendors or relax in your bungalow or walk on dirt roads, all while surrounded by different sorts of people.  The painting is not urban in reality, but its concept is urban in the sense that there is a huge spectrum of things going on, involving different groups of different people.  I wish I could be there – or should I say, it makes me wish I could be in Haiti, even though it is not.  But it has mountains like Haiti (for which the country was named), and Dominca is also a francophone Caribbean country.  This painting gives me nostalgia and pride for a land to which I have never been.

La famille de Renards
(My maternal family in Haiti a couple of generations ago.)

“Caripito Village”, 1939 – Rainey Bennett

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The Basic Facts: “Caripito Village” is a watercolour painting on paper by Rainey Bennett (1907 – 1998), an American painter.  It is in El Museo del Barrio.


Description: The painting is of medium size, a little bigger than the front cover of a textbook.  Its subject is a small village, near a river of sorts.  A rectangular cluster of huts, slightly towards my left.  A dirt road coming down from the left of the painting and past the middle, until it is cloaked by trees and underbrush.  A woman with a conical hat – a witch’s hat, almost – walks down the road.  Past the plant life is a small, vibrant river or lake, seemingly uninhabited.  A little isle is in it, not far from the banks.  A pregnant woman, naked, stands on the shores of the isle, gazing at the town.  Her hut is behind her.


The colours are bold, bleeding, and inky blues, more blues, blacks, and greens.  The village and a tree have some browns, and the road is sunset yellow and amber.  The “witch” wears a dark cayenne-coloured dress.  The colours are simultaneously soft – due to the brushstrokes and the bleeding nature of watercolours – and vibrant.  Bennett’s painting reminds me of an East Asian ink painting, with its slender brushstrokes and forms. 


À mon avis*: I hated the painting for its deception at first, but as I kept writing I fell in love.


The ambivalence of the brushstrokes – their decisiveness and fragility – is stunning.  The paradox is part of the painting’s beauty; the vivid colours further add to it.  But there are also the details: the stick fence hidden in the bottom left bushes, the sparse cotton ball clouds, the pregnant woman longingly looking over the village… I could write stories about this place, stories about rain and desperation and mythical narwhals and that fungi-yellow Asian tree and each of the women and voodoo and the story of the fence.  For every two houses there is a story.  The painting’s beauty wooed me, but ‘twas the serenading of the expectant stories made me fall in love.


Now why did I hate the painting at first?  For misleading the viewer.


“Caripito Village” is not a traditional Western painting; it seems to be influenced by East Asian art.  The painting depicts a Caribbean village in an unrealistic manner.  The village looks nice, quaint, lush.  It’s probably not.  Bennett depicts the natural beauty and truth, but not the social economic or emotional realities.  The artist does her subject injustice by begetting its problems.  Or is that my responsibility? I wonder.  Maybe she’s just being an artist, and I’m the one who should enjoy the illusion while knowing the truth.

*À mon avis – French – in my opinion