Posing Modernity The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today Denise Murrell

Publication date:
27 Nov 2018
Yale University Press
224 pages: 260 x 229mm
177 color illus.


This timely and original study investigates how changing modes of representing the black female figure were foundational to the development of modern art. Posing Modernity examines the legacy of Edouard Manet’s Olympia (1863), arguing that this radical painting marked a shift toward portraying the black figure as an active participant in modern life rather than as an exotic “other.” Denise Murrell explores the intersection between the avant-garde artists of 19th-century Paris and the community of post-abolition free black Parisians. She traces the impact of Manet’s reconsideration of the black model into the 20th century and across the Atlantic, where Henri Matisse socialized in Harlem jazz clubs and later produced transformative portraits of the Haitian dancer Carmen as a cosmopolitan beauty. The book concludes with a look at how Manet and Matisse’s depictions influenced Romare Bearden and continue to reverberate in the work of such global contemporary artists as Faith Ringgold, Aimé Mpane, and Mickalene Thomas, who draw on art history to explore its other voices.
Featuring over 175 illustrations, Posing Modernity illuminates long-obscured figures and proposes that a history of modernism cannot be complete until it examines the vital role of the black female muse within it.

Denise Murrell is curator, Posing Modernity exhibition, and Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University.

“What distinguishes Posing Modernity is its understanding of reframing beauty as black women perform it specifically for painters and photographers. It is a striking book, a remarkable read.”—Deborah Willis, New York University, Tisch School of the Arts