Paint Me for One of Your French Girls: The Capture and Dissemination of Coffee Plantation Labor Imagery in 19th Century Brazil

By Fraynette Familia and Mackenzie Sangster

This exhibit intends to look at the multifaceted history of labor portrayals in Brazil through illustrations and photographs. Through research of primary and secondary sources, we found the following aspects to be of importance in order to fully explore and analyze both the work and its impact: the descriptions of illustrations and photography, the labor history of Brazil in the 19th century (with a focus on coffee plantations and farms), labor depictions and changes in portrayal, artist biographies of prominent labor and industrial artists, the impact of the intended audience on the art-making process, and the intersectionality of gender and race in the lives of the laborers. Our argument is that these images we have selected romanticize and glorify labor, depicting slaves not as individuals, but as pieces of a larger production project. 

There are two main types of primary sources in this exhibit: illustrations and photographs. During the 19th century, artists still created paintings and drawings and also began experimenting with photography. Not only are these different mediums, but they also can be captured in different timeframes and transported or reproduced in different ways. In this context, European photographers from this century captured many more images of Brazilian scenery and life and were able to share these more efficiently and to larger audiences. Furthermore, the 19th century also brought new technologies of production and transportation that contributed to the ‘export boom’ of coffee and other commodities (Baranov).

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