Colouring the Caribbean

Race and the art of Agostino Brunias

By Mia L. Bagneris

Colouring the Caribbean


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2045-8
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £95.00
  • Published Date: December 2017
  • BIC Category: Art History, History of art, HISTORY / Caribbean & West Indies / General, ART / History / General, Caribbean islands, The arts / History of art & design styles: c 1600 to c 1800
  • Series: Rethinking Art's Histories


Colouring the Caribbean offers the first comprehensive study of Agostino Brunias's intriguing pictures of colonial West Indians of colour - so called 'Red' and 'Black' Caribs, dark-skinned Africans and Afro-Creoles, and people of mixed race - made for colonial officials and plantocratic elites during the late-eighteenth century. Although Brunias's paintings have often been understood as straightforward documents of visual ethnography that functioned as field guides for reading race, this book investigates how the images both reflected and refracted ideas about race commonly held by eighteenth-century Britons, helping to construct racial categories while simultaneously exposing their constructedness and underscoring their contradictions. The book offers provocative new insights about Brunias's work gleaned from a broad survey of his paintings, many of which are reproduced here for the first time.


'In her lush visual analyses, Bagneris artfully deploys twenty-first century language to describe eighteenth-century pictures-a mixed-race planter is "dressed to beat the heat"; skin tones range from "dark chocolate" to "vanilla cream"; and some figures may be "pale, but, then again, not as pale as all that" (1, 157, 2-3)-as if to remind us that Brunias's paintings belong as much to our present as they do to the past. As scholars continue to explore his works and the visual culture of which they were a part, Bagneris's text is sure to become a key point of reference and departure.'
Meredith Gamer, Columbia University, Collage Art Association, March 2019

'Bagneris's study of Brunias is energetic and stimulating.'
New West Indian Guide

'Bagneris's purpose . is to complicate the univocal reading of these images and to interpret them as pro-slavery statements . the paintings manifest all the complexity and ambivalence of the system of racial classification of late-eighteenth-century British colonialism.'

'Bagneris' text expands our understanding of Brunias' paintings and is a praiseworthy publication on the relationship between visual culture and imperial expansion. [.] Colouring the Caribbean will not only stand as the definitive text on Brunias, but will also serve as a model for future scholarship on race and representation in the colonial world.'
Association for Art History


1 Brunias's tarred brush, or painting Indians black: race-ing the Carib divide
2 Merry and contented slaves and other island myths: representing Africans and Afro-Creoles in the Anglo-American world
3 Brown-skinned booty, or colonising Diana: mixed-race Venuses and Vixens as the fruits of imperial enterprise
4 Can you find the white woman in this picture? Agostino Brunias's 'ladies' of ambiguous race
Coda - Pushing Brunias's buttons, or re-branding the plantocracy's painter: the afterlife of Brunias's imagery


Mia L. Bagneris is Jesse Poesch Junior Professor of Art History at Tulane University

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