Masterpieces renamed at new art exhibition to highlight the role of people of color

The exhibition features work from the likes of Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse.

March 26, 2019, 3:41 PM

PARIS -- Paintings by some of France’s best known artists have been re-named to highlight the role of people of color in art history, part of a new exhibition in Paris that opened Tuesday.

The new names, which are displayed at the exhibition "Le modèle noir de géricault à Matisse" (Black Models: from Géricault to Matisse), are displayed alongside the original titles at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse are among the most famous artists on display in the exhibition, which highlights the underrepresentation of black subjects in art history.

Manet’s "Olympia," which features a black servant and a reclining white woman, is renamed "Laure" for the purpose of the exhibition. Researchers from the Musée d'Orsay tracked down the original Laure by scouring through Manet’s old notebooks. They discovered that the woman in the painting had been featured in a number of his other artworks and that his notebook made frequent references to a woman named Laure.

The exhibition also renames several of the artworks that contain words used to refer to black people in the past that are now considered offensive.

The curators at the Musée d'Orsay included works from prominent artists of color from French history, such as the 19th century painter Théodore Chassériau.

Chassériau was the son of a white colonial official and a “woman of color” in the modern day Dominican Republic, but his heritage had been “kept hidden for many years,” according to the exhibition catalog.

"Le modèle noir" showcases the aesthetic trends of French modern art with information about oft neglected periods of black history, such as the anti-slavery Haitian Revolution of 1791 and the role of black soldiers during the World War I.

The exhibition is an attempt to highlight the role of people of color in the birth of modern art and address the racial imbalance in art history, according to Denise Murrell, one of the exhibition’s curators.

“This is emblematic,” Murrell told the AFP. “It was art history that left them out. It has contributed to the construction of these figures as racial types as a opposed to the individuals they were.”

The exhibition will be available until July 21.