“Now known as Portrait of a Haitian Woman (1786) and painted by the French Canadian artist François Malépart de Beaucourt, this work is the most thorough and professionally rendered representation of a Black slave in the context of Québec and Canada at this historical juncture. It offers unparalleled opportunity to explore the specific colonial context of enslavement in 18th-century Montréal and Québec.”

“The sexually charged nature [emphasis added] of Portrait of a Haitian Woman— the deliberate juxtaposition of the breast with the tropical fruit — is indicative of the precarious status of Black female slaves and their vulnerability to sexual exploitation. Upper class, white female sitters simply would not have been represented in this fashion. Due to the practice of “breeding,”all aspects of female slave life came under invasive scrutiny from slave owners, including their sexuality, marital status, workload and diet. Therefore, the exposed breast of the enslaved Black female in Portrait of a Haitian Woman indicates her sexuality and “breeding” potential as active considerations in her economic value. Beaucourt’s portrait participated in the creation of sexual stereotypes through which Black women were viewed as sexually lascivious and deviant, which served to justify their sexual exploitation within the Atlantic Slave Trade.”

Read Full article by McGill University Professor, Charmaine A. Nelson.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.