Assistant Professor of History of Art on the Emily Rauh Pulitzer ’55 Professorship
Department of History of Art
Bryn Mawr College
“Shades of Revolution: Guillaume Guillon Lethière and Neoclassicism’s Other Environments”
This presentation explores the neoclassical oeuvre of Guillaume Guillon Lethière—a mixed-race painter who was born in Guadeloupe and ascended to the heights of the French Academié in the early-nineteenth century. Taking up a body of works executed over the course of the French and Haitian Revolutions, this paper centers on the inclusion of Caribbean ecological markers in Lethière’s history paintings. From this perspective, Lethière’s oeuvre articulates a relationship to the Caribbean as an ecology of blackness counterintuitively represented through Classicism. This is an ecology in its broadest sense; it encapsulates not only the psychic machinations of an individual mixed-race artist, but also the diffusion of raced identity into the landscape itself, and the co-mingling of blackness and the botanical in an independent Haiti. Lethière and his painting practice are a distinct node at which multiple colonial dialectics converge: the tumultuous politics of Revolutionary France and Haiti, the liberatory political possibilities of the Classics and botany for black subjectivities, and the interpenetrating psychological and environmental ecologies that opened as much as they foreclosed for Lethière.