New acquisition for Cleveland Museum

May 12 2022

Image of New acquisition for Cleveland Museum


This was a few weeks ago, but I'm interested in how museums, especially US ones, are changing their collecting priorities in the wake of Black Lives Matter. The Cleveland Museum of Art has bought a plaster bust by the French 19th Century sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who explored questions of slavery a number of times. Says

The Cleveland Museum of Art sees its new acquisition of a major 19th-century French sculpture expressing abolitionist outrage against slavery as a launchpad for wide-ranging discussions on the role of politics, race, and power in art history — and in the history of its own collection.

The plaster sculpture, entitled “Why Born Enslaved!” created by the artist Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux in 1868, is a bust-length portrait of an anonymous enslaved Black woman, bound tightly with ropes, with her gown ripped away, revealing her left breast. [...]

The acquisition of the Carpeaux comes as cultural institutions across the U.S. are re-evaluating racial equity practices in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, and the national wave of Black Lives Matter protests that followed.

The Cleveland museum, which serves a city that is roughly 50% Black and is surrounded by low-income, majority-Black neighborhoods, adopted its first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan in 2018, and over the past decade has stepped up the frequency and scale of exhibitions and purchases of works by African-American artists.

The bust, of which there are a number of versions in different media (there's a bronze in the Indianapolis Museum of Art which, surprisingly, still carries a title from another age), was originally modelled as part of a commission for the Fontaine de l'Observatoire in the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris. It was intended to represent Africa, which, along with representations of Europe, America and Asia, held up the world. Carpeaux's initial designs drew some scorn, and in the finished fountain the full length figure of Africa is more idealised, and bound only by her ankle.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.