Friday, 5 February 2010

Pirates & Slaves - a French toile c1800 with surprisingly brutal imagery

I was talking to somebody the other day and pirates cropped up in the conversation for some reason, which put me in mind of a toile I had a while ago. I think it is a toile de Jouy or Rouen, and dates somewhere between 1790 and 1810 as far as I can tell. It is quite a strange and compelling piece, using large, very naturalistic flower and fruit motifs as a framing device for two quite unsettling vignettes.

One shows some unfortunate women being brutally captured by pirates. The imagery is very agressive. The image is made all the more horrific by the look of horror on the sheepdog's face, and the helplessness of the villagers in the background. The other shows a slave market, where male and female slaves are looked over by their prospective buyer and before being purchased. I am sure the revulsion we feel for such scenes is a product of our improved human rights and equality laws.

I sold this toile a while ago, and while part of me would still like to own a piece for the sake of reference, I am content to just look at the photos from time to time. We tend to romantasize piracy - not surprising with the wonderful Mr Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow - when the reality was dark & brutal.

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