October 21, 2020 – C.C. McKee

Assistant Professor of Modern Art
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.

 C.C. McKee is an Assistant Professor of Modern Art on the Emily Rauh Pulitzer ’55 Professorship in the Department of History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. McKee received a dual doctorate from Northwestern University and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. In their current monographic project, McKee uses painting and scientific imagery to trace the coeval developments in colonial race and environmental sciences in the francophone Atlantic World. This project represents one facet of McKee’s broader investment in the relationship between colonialism and its continued effects in the present. These interests include, the art history of science in the Atlantic World, contemporary African and African diasporic art, and queer aesthetic practices. In addition to their scholarship, McKee has developed these perspectives in various pieces of art criticism; with exhibitions at the Block Museum, Iceberg Projects (Chicago, IL), and the Ghetto Biennale (Port-au-Prince, Haiti); as well as in an articles in Art Journal and CASVA Seminar Papers. McKee’s research and curatorial projects have been supported by a number of grants including the College Art Association Professional Development Fellowship.

* Unless otherwise specified, this lecture will be recorded.