Here is a compelling review that provides a rich historical context for the exhibition “Traversing the Picturesque: For Sentimental Value,” which opened on March 22, and is on view through July 29, 2018, at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas in Nassau, The Bahamas. See full article by Holly Bynoe (Nassau Guardian).
On March 22 through July 29, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas presents the first of two historical surveys exhibitions that include works produced from 1856-1960 by visiting artists and expatriates, who were inspired by the then-colony’s landscapes, people, luminescence, coastlines and seas and bustling lifestyles. “Traversing the Picturesque: For Sentimental Value” draws from several familiar and a few new collections to detail the breadth and scope of how The Bahamas has been framed within the popular global imagination and the impact of the colonial and outsider gaze on the development of a historical understanding of the nation.
By the mid-19th century, and certainly by the early twentieth, The Bahamas served the senses as inspiration, invoking nostalgia, sentimentality and even romance to many – but especially to painters, explorers, inventors, ethnographers, military personnel, cartographers and writers, who came to study the sense of adventure and the exotic along with expansion in the New World. This was the charting of a new era coupled with the demise of the plantocracy and sugar industry and the birth of more equitable trade and migration; we connect to the emergence of a tangible awareness of a globalized world.
From the New World
This advent, heralded by colonization and the rise of the British Empire, was coming to a close with the end of Slavery and Indentureship in the mid-1800s, opening up the belly of the Caribbean to an influx of stimuli and started to attract significant players within the arts and outside of it. Those who would come to transform how the region was seen from the outside, including those who visited The Bahamas and left essential bodies of work that positioned the Caribbean in a certain way, artists like Winslow Homer 1836-1910 (American, working in The Bahamas circa 1885) and others who came to redefine the region at the turn of the century including Camille Pissarro 1830-1903 (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands) and Francisco Oller 1833-1917 (Puerto Rico) and of course the infamous French post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Gauguin’s now influential mapping of an artistic ‘paradise’ during his visits to Panama and a four-month stint on Martinique in 1888 which would later frame and profoundly inform the work that he did in Southeast Asia, namely Tahiti, for which he is now infamous. He, like others, continue to be dazzled by the beauty of the islands and the richness of the motifs that were found in the landscape and the coastal areas of these islands.
The birth and idyll of the Caribbean as exotic, paradise and Eden were cemented during this time, and by 1920, the Caribbean became en vogue and continued to be a muse to those in Europe. [. . .]
[. . .] It is important to note that the Caribbean–mainly Martinique and Haiti – given their département d’outre-mer and historical status – became a haven and safe ground to literary giants including those from the Surrealist art movement in Europe. André Breton–the movement’s founder–traveled through the region and spent considerable time in Martinique with the intellectual giants, Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, who would later become political vanguards in that territory, adding to that the work that they did together on the journal Tropiques, remains to this day an inspiration to artists and writers who considered the surrealism movement a deep political ideology. Fast forward, decades later to a post-independent Caribbean, and the legacy of Cesaire’s literary impact has shaped the Caribbean’s relationship to Black identity and of course, gives us a more significant way in which we can parse through somewhat dated and at times problematic representation connected to Black representation.
From this, the work of Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982, Cuba), would have hardly found its place within the Western Canon with the creation of “The Jungle” (1943), and the entree of Edna Manley (1900-1987, United Kingdom) into the Jamaican and regional lexicon as the matriarch of Jamaican Art is something that might have been contested, rather than both of them leaving indelible marks on our cultural space; giving credence to the region as a vital powerhouse of the genesis of art, art education, and the rise of the visual art industry. [. . .]
[William Henry. “Harbour Scene”, acrylic on masonite, 30 x 34, nd. Courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection.]