Music, Dance, & Recreational Activities

  • Dance or Ball, White Sulfur Springs, Virginia, 1838

    Titled Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, 1838, this oil painting was made by Christian Freidrich Mayr (1803-1851), a German born painter who migrated to America in the early 1830ís. He worked a great deal in the South as an itinerant artist specializing in scenes of everyday life, but earned a living by painting portraits; he died in New York City. In 1838, he visited White Sulfur Springs, a popular mountain resort for wealthy Virginians and other Southern whites. Kitchen ball may represent some sort of celebration, but it can merely be a normal weekend dance and the formal attire of the participants (particularly the central figures dressed in white) may reflect artistic license and embellishment. On the right a fiddler sits on a bench; on one side of him a man plays a flute and on the other side an unseen person plays what appears to be a cello. Although writers often characterize this painting as a slave ball or dance, the people shown may have included free domestic servants as well as slaves attending their wealthy owners on holiday. Frederick Marryat, the English writer, visited White Sulphur Springs (today, located in West Virginia) in 1838 and noted the presence of a large number of negro servants here attending their masters and mistresses. During his visit he encountered Mayr who had painted a kitchen-dance in Old Virginia, and in the picture he had introduced all the well-known coloured people in the place; Jules Zanger, ed., Captain Frederick Marryat, Diary in America (Indiana University Press, 1960), pp. 272-273. Also, E. Johns, American Genre Painting (Yale University Press, 1991), pp. 114, 231n19; H. M. Kastinger Riley, Christian Friedrich Mayr, The Magazine Antiques (November 1998); J. A. Cuthbert , Early Art and Artists in West Virginia (West Virginia University Press, 2000), 213. Thanks to Angela Bell-Morris for her assistance; and to Kelley Deetz for bringing this painting to our attention.
  • Afro-Brazilian Dance, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1820-24

    Water color on paper titled Negro fandango scene, Campo St. Anna, Rio de Janeiro. Men, women, and children are shown dancing; the scene includes musical instruments (e.g., drums), people with pottery vessels, fruit. Augustus Earle, an English painter who travelled widely, lived in Rio from early 1820 to early 1824, with occasional trips to Chile and Peru during that period.
  • Festival, Havana, Cuba, 1847

    This sketch of the Twelfth Day Festival, or Day of the Kings, as it is called in Havana was taken by an English visitor to Havana on 6 January 1847, and sent to the Illustrated London News which reports It represents an annual custom--a kind of Saturnalia--permitted by the authorities to the Slaves or Negroes of what they call 'Nacion,' or Nation--that is to say, those born in Africa . . . (p. 148). Note, musical instruments and elaborate costumes, representing different ethnic groups. For a related illustration of this festival, see image Album-8 on this website. For details on Havana's annual El Dia de Reyes festival, see Daniel E. Walker, No More, No More: Slavery and Cultural Resistance in Havana and New Orleans (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2004).
  • Capoeira Scene, Brazil, 1820-24

    Water color on paper titled Negroes fighting, Brazils. Although the word fighting is in the artist's title, the men's body movements are those of Capoeira (see image reference NW0171 on this website). Several onlookers are shown, including a woman carrying an infant, and a white policeman/soldier approaching the scene; the seated man is playing a drum, the source of music for this performance. Augustus Earle, an English painter, lived in Rio from early 1820 to early 1824, with occasional trips to Chile and Peru during that period.
  • Musical Group, Brazil, 1846

    Street scene with musicians; drum and various woodwind and brass instruments. Forty days after Lent, the most popular of Brazilian festivals takes place--that of the Holy Ghost . . . . Each [church] has sent out a band of collectors, who for five weeks will canvass and recanvass the city, surburbs, and surrounding country . . . . Musicians always attend them, commonly negroes (Ewbank, p. 251). The author spent about seven months in Brazil in 1846.
  • Slave Festival, St. Vincent, West Indies, 1770s

    Caption, A Negro festival, shows group of men and women dancing and their clothing styles. The caption notes that this engraving was drawn from nature in the island of St. Vincent, from an original picture by Augustino Brunyas, in the possession of Sir William Young; first published in London in 1791 (b/w and colored versions of this print are held by the Barbados Museum). The same print, but titled Negro Dance in the island of Dominica and dedicated to General Charles O'Hara, was published in the 1794-1800 edition of Bryan Edwards (see, for example, reproduction in Andrew J. O'Shaughnessy, An Empire Divided [Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2000], p. 35). According to Lennox Honychurch (see below) this illustration perhaps more accurately represents a party of 'free people of colour' than the slave festival that the term 'Negro' or 'Negre' (synonymous with 'slave') indicated in the 18th century. But this is splitting hairs, for whatever the source, it has conveyed its misleading message of merriness and contentment of the enslaved for over two hundred years. Honychurch observes that Although it is described as taking place in St Vincent, this engraving combines scenes produced elsewhere on the islands. In the left hand corner of the picture a drummer and female tambourine player reappear from similar scenes painted in Dominica and St Kitts. A dancing couple performs what may be ... called 'Belaire' in Trinidad. They too can be observed in at least three of his other paintings of the period. A white sailor or overseer asks a decorous Mulatress to dance or at least gestures towards the dancers. Agostino Brunias (sometimes incorrectly spelled Brunyas, Brunais), a painter born in Italy in 1730, came to England in 1758 where he became acquainted with William Young. Young had been appointed to a high governmental post in West Indian territories acquired by Britain from France, and in late 1764 Brunias accompanied Young to the Caribbean as his personal artist. Arriving in early 1765, Brunias stayed in the islands until around 1775, when he returned to England (exhibiting some of his paintings in the late 1770s) and visited the continent. He returned to the West Indies in 1784 and remained there until his death on the island of Dominica in 1796. Although Brunias primarily resided in Dominica he also spent time in St. Vincent, and visited other islands, including Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts, and Tobago. See Lennox Honychurch, Chatoyer's Artist: Agostino Brunias and the Depiction of St Vincent, for what is presently the most informative and balanced discussion of Brunias and his romanticized and idyllic paintings of West Indian scenes and slave life (Jl of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, vol. 50 [2004], pp.104-128); see also Hans Huth, Agostino Brunias, Romano (The Connoisseur, vol. 51 [Dec. 1962], pp. 265-269).
  • Dance Steps and Movements, Trinidad, 1836

    Caption, Negro Figuranti, shows men and women in various dance positions; all their movements in dancing are marked by great activity (Bridgens). Woman on bottom row (2nd from right), holds a shakshak or rattle. A sculptor, furniture designer and architect, Richard Bridgens was born in England in 1785, but in 1826 he moved to Trinidad where his wife had inherited a sugar plantation, St. Clair. Although he occasionally returned to England, he ultimately lived in Trinidad for seven years and died in Port of Spain in 1846. Bridgens' book contains 27 plates, thirteen of which are shown on this website. The plates were based on drawings made from life and were done between 1825, when Bridgens arrived in Trinidad, and 1836, when his book was published. Although his work is undated, the title page of a copy held by the Beinecke Rare Book Room at Yale University has a front cover with a publication date of 1836, the date usually assigned to this work by major libraries whose copies lack a title page. Bridgens' racist perspectives on enslaved Africans and his defense of slavery are discussed in T. Barringer, G. Forrester, and B. Martinez-Ruiz, Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds (Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 460-461. Bridgensí life is discussed extensively along with discussion of his drawings and presentation of many details on slave life in Trinidad in Judy Raymond, The Colour of Shadows: Images of Caribbean Slavery (Coconut Beach, Florida: Caribbean Studies Press, 2016). Raymondís book, which is an essential source for any study of Bridgens, also includes a number of unpublished sketches of Trinidadian slave life. See also Brian Austen, Richard Hicks Bridgens (Oxford Art Online/Grove Art Online).
  • Dance, St. Vincent, West Indies, ca. 1775

    Title, Villagers Merry Making in the island of St. Vincent, with Dancers and Musicians, A Landscape with Huts on a Hill. Note, houses of the enslaved are shown on left and in background. The print shown here (slide of print, courtesy of Kenneth Bilby) is from an oil painting located in the National Library of Jamaica. Compare with images NW0251a and NW0156 on this website. A version of this painting, with some similar figures, is published in Hugh Honour, The Image of the Black in Western Art (Menil Foundation, Harvard University Press, 1989), vol. 4, pt. 1, p.33, fig. 3, titled Scene with Dancing in the West Indies, ca. 1770-80. Agostino Brunias (sometimes incorrectly spelled Brunyas, Brunais), a painter born in Italy in 1730, came to England in 1758 where he became acquainted with William Young. Young had been appointed to a high governmental post in West Indian territories acquired by Britain from France, and in late 1764 Brunias accompanied Young to the Caribbean as his personal artist. Arriving in early 1765, Brunias stayed in the islands until around 1775, when he returned to England (exhibiting some of his paintings in the late 1770s) and visited the continent. He returned to the West Indies in 1784 and remained there until his death on the island of Dominica in 1796. Although Brunias primarily resided in Dominica he also spent time in St. Vincent, and visited other islands, including Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts, and Tobago. See Lennox Honychurch, Chatoyer's Artist: Agostino Brunias and the Depiction of St Vincent, for what is presently the most informative and balanced discussion of Brunias and his romanticized and idyllic paintings of West Indian scenes and slave life (Jl of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, vol. 50 [2004], pp.104-128); see also Hans Huth, Agostino Brunias, Romano (The Connoisseur, vol. 51 [Dec. 1962], pp. 265-269).
  • Stick Fighting, Dominica, West Indies, ca. 1779

    Title, A cudgelling match between English and French Negroes in the island of Dominica. The print shown here is from an oil painting located in the National Library of Jamaica (slide of print, courtesy of Kenneth Bilby). Compare with image NW0158 on this website. Agostino Brunias (sometimes incorrectly spelled Brunyas, Brunais), a painter born in Italy in 1730, came to England in 1758 where he became acquainted with William Young. Young had been appointed to a high governmental post in West Indian territories acquired by Britain from France, and in late 1764 Brunias accompanied Young to the Caribbean as his personal artist. Arriving in early 1765, Brunias stayed in the islands until around 1775, when he returned to England (exhibiting some of his paintings in the late 1770s) and visited the continent. He returned to the West Indies in 1784 and remained there until his death on the island of Dominica in 1796. Although Brunias primarily resided in Dominica he also spent time in St. Vincent, and visited other islands, including Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts, and Tobago. See Lennox Honychurch, Chatoyer's Artist: Agostino Brunias and the Depiction of St Vincent, for what is presently the most informative and balanced discussion of Brunias and his romanticized and idyllic paintings of West Indian scenes and slave life (Jl of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, vol. 50 [2004], pp.104-128); see also Hans Huth, Agostino Brunias, Romano (The Connoisseur, vol. 51 [Dec. 1962], pp. 265-269).
  • Female Clothing Styles at a Festival, Suriname, ca. 1831

    Captioned, slaves going to a Dou or festival (see comments with image reference BEN13), shows five women dressed in their most beautiful holiday finery (p. 27). Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • Slaves Conversing, Paramaribo, Suriname, ca. 1831

    Captioned, Takie-Takie, this image shows a group of women, including an elderly one, engaged in informal conversation; one of the women is nursing her child. In discussing this illustration, Benoit writes that slave women are in general excellent mothers, and as soon as they begin to breast feed their children they abstain from any physical contact with their husbands. During the period that they breast-feed, he writes, they can relax and have time to engage in takie-takie or gossip sessions (p. 54). Today, talkie-talkie, refers to Sranan, a widely used creole language of Suriname which combines grammatical elements of English and West African languages with vocabulary elements mainly of English and Dutch origin. Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • Women Conversing in Creole Language, Suriname, ca. 1831

    Three enslaved women dressed in every day clothing engaged in conversation or making Takie-Takie. The language Takie-Takie (today widely spoken and officially known as Sranan), combines grammatical elements of English and West African languages with vocabulary elements mainly of English and Dutch origin; the group conversation, Benoit notes, is also called Takie-Takie (p. 21). Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • Slave Festival and Musical Instruments, Suriname, ca. 1831

    Caption, Le Dou, ou grande fete des esclaves (The Dou or great festival of the slaves). The author writes that enslaved people and creole blacks place great emphasis on dancing in general and particularly on gatherings which they call Dou. The Dou is ordinarily danced by the negros and by the slaves, above all on New Year's day. It is in these kinds of get togethers that they forget the shovel/fork and the whip, and they appear in all kinds of fancy clothing which is very different from the clothing they wore the day before or will wear the following day when going out to work (p. 23). Note, the drummers in the left corner; women on the right and left of the picture hold a rattle, or the maccari, a small instrument which makes the same noise as a vessel filled with stones; the women hold it in their right hand and pound the beat with the left hand. Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • Playing Billiards, Paramaribo, Suriname, ca. 1831

    Captioned, Blacks enjoying themselves playing billiards. The author writes that a recreational diversion to which the colonists and above all the Negroes are passionately devoted is playing games, billiards being the most preferred (p. 27). Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • Dance Teacher and His Pupils, Paramaribo, Suriname, ca. 1831

    This illustration shows a creole dance master teaching steps to a black slave and a creole woman. The teacher plays a violin and the pupils are being taught to dance on their toes; they are very superior in this excercise, the author writes, to our European dancers (p. 27). Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.
  • Musical Band in John Canoe (Jonkonnu, JonKanoo) Festival, Jamaica, 1837

    Captioned, Band of the Jaw-Bone John-Canoe (See also image Belisario05), this illustration shows one man playing a conventional Western drum, a Bass drum while another plays the Gumbay (also called a Box or Bench drum); the latter is a small square wooden frame over which a goat's skin is tightly strained and is supported by a tattered urchin. A rasp is played by the man on the left; it is simply the lower jaw of a horse, on the teeth of which a piece of wood is passed quickly up and down, occasioning a rattling noise. For background on the artist, see Belisario01.
  • John Canoe (Jonkonnu, JonKanoo) Costume, Jamaica, 1838

    Captioned Koo, Koo, or Actor Boy, this lithograph depicts an elaborately costumed and masked male dancer surrounded by on-lookers and musicians; he carries a whip and fan, the former used for clearing his path, the latter for cooling himself when his mask is lifted (see also image Belisario03, for another Actor Boy. Belisario gives a detailed description of John-Canoe festivities and also speculates on the origin of the name. With respect to this illustration, he writes the band consists of drums and fifes only, to which music the Actor stalks most majestically, oftentimes stopping to afford the by-standers a fair opportunity of gazing at him . . . . The foundation [of his headdress] is an old hat, affording the wearer the means of sustaining the superstructure, to which it is firmly attached, and composed of various colored beads, bugles, spangles, pieces of looking-glass, tinsel, etc. attached to a pasteboard form trimmed round the edges with silver lace, surmounted with feathers. The garments are of muslin, silk, satin, and ribbons. For background on the artist, see Belisario01.
  • John Canoe (Jonkonnu, JonKanoo) Costume, Jamaica, 1837

    Captioned, Jaw-Bone, or House John-Canoe, Belisario writes that along with Koo-Koo, or Actor Boy [see image reference Belisario03] this is the most conspicuous of those who annually attract public notice. He dresses in a pseudo military style and in common with the whole John Canoe fraternity, he is always masked with a profusion of dark hair, which is suffered to fall in large wild ringlets over his face and shoulders, giving his appearance an extraordinary and savage air . . . The house is usually constructed of pasteboard and colored papers,
  • John Canoe (Jonkonnu, JonKanoo) Costume, Jamaica, 1837

    Captioned, Queen, or Maam of the Set-Girls. In compiling his prints for publication, this was the first one to be shown. The Queen leads the group of female dancers, denominated Set-Girls (see image Belisario02), and she is invested with absolute authority, which . . . she exercises with unsparing severity, as may be inferred by the cow-skin whip borne in her hand. Her costume is elaborate and although the ornaments displayed are probably the loan of her mistress, the remainder of the dress is invariably purchased by herself. For background on the artist, see Belisario01.
  • John Canoe (Jonkonnu, JonKanoo) Costume, Jamaica, 1838

    Captioned, Koo, Koo, or Actor-Boy, John Canoe characters who, Belisario writes, were literate street performers who recited passages from, for example, Shakespeare plays and engaged in pantomime. They content themselves annually with the public exhibition of their finery,and station themselves in a busy area of Kingston where gentlemen who may be passing are requested to decide which is the smartest dressed, presumably by tipping them (see also Belisario05). For background on the artist, see Belisario01.
  • John Canoe (Jonkonnu, JonKanoo) Dancers, Jamaica, 1837

    The Red Set-Girls, and Jack in the Green, are led by their Queen (see image Belisario04), and wear dresses of the same color. Their jewelry is not as elaborate as the Queen's, but they always wear earrings and bracelets, such lovers are they of ornaments. They start dancing in the late mornings and parade the town with little intermission till night, when they are invited to enter private houses to dance and sing . . . . Refreshments and a gratuity are presented them . . ., and they retire to repeat the same elsewhere till a late hour. The Jack-in-the-Green wears a costume composed of the leaves of the cocoa-nut tree, attached to hoops, diminishing in circumference to the top, which is crowned by a large bow with the addition of a couple of flags. For background on the artist, see Belisario01.
  • John Canoe (Jonkonnu, JonKanoo) Dancers, Jamaica, 1838

    Captioned, French Set-Girls, Belisario traces their origin to African and Creole slaves who came to Jamaica with their owners, escaping the revolt in St. Domingue. The French Sets he writes, are invariably observers of taste and decorum, considering it derogatory to dance elsewhere than in dwelling-houses, or within walled premises . . . . They have their Queen and allow male companions to join in their dances, during which two drums or
  • Three Kings Day Festival, Havana, Cuba, ca. 1850

    Caption, Dia de Reyes. The Holy King's Day, showing costumed revellers dancing, musical instruments, etc. For a similar illustration and description of the Twelfth Day Festival, or Day of the Kings, see image ILN026 on this website. This and other lithographs in this album were done by the French artist Frederic/Federico Mialhe, who lived in Cuba from 1838 to 1854; they were plagiarized by Bernardo May who had them published under his own name. (Thanks to Lesbia O, Varona for help in identifying this item and clarifying bibliographic issues; see also, Emilio Cueto, Mialhe's Colonial Cuba [Miami, The Historical Association of Southern Florida, 1994], p. 105 for the same image and various dates.)
  • Slave Dance, Cuba, 1859

    Caption, Negro Dance on a Cuban Plantation; shows men and women, drums and other musical instruments.
  • Dance, Dominica, West Indies, 1770s

    Caption begins This plate (representing a Negro dance in the island of Dominica) is humbly dedicated....; shows musical instruments and formal dress found in French West Indies. Another version of this print, with a different dedication, but same title, was also published in London in 1779; a copy of the 1779 print is owned by the Barbados Museum. Whatever the case, this image, like others by Brunias of slave life in the West Indies, conveys a distorted image of the realities of slave life. Agostino Brunias (sometimes incorrectly spelled Brunyas, Brunais), a painter born in Italy in 1730, came to England in 1758 where he became acquainted with William Young. Young had been appointed to a high governmental post in West Indian territories acquired by Britain from France, and in late 1764 Brunias accompanied Young to the Caribbean as his personal artist. Arriving in early 1765, Brunias stayed in the islands until around 1775, when he returned to England (exhibiting some of his paintings in the late 1770s) and visited the continent. He returned to the West Indies in 1784 and remained there until his death on the island of Dominica in 1796. Although Brunias primarily resided in Dominica he also spent time in St. Vincent, and visited other islands, including Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts, and Tobago. See Lennox Honychurch, Chatoyer's Artist: Agostino Brunias and the Depiction of St Vincent, for what is presently the most informative and balanced discussion of Brunias and his romanticized and idyllic paintings of West Indian scenes and slave life (Jl of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, vol. 50 [2004], pp.104-128); see also Hans Huth, Agostino Brunias, Romano (The Connoisseur, vol. 51 [Dec. 1962], pp. 265-269). This scene shown here is identical to the illustration danse de negres published in Nicolas Ponce, Recueil des vues des lieux principaux de la colonie Francaise de Saint-Domingue (Paris, 1791, fig. 26); see image NW0251-a on this website.
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