Agostino Brunias

Last updated
A painting of a Dominican linen market by Brunias Agostino Brunias - Linen Market, Dominica - Google Art Project.jpg
A painting of a Dominican linen market by Brunias

Agostino Brunias (c. 1730 – 2 April 1796) was an Italian painter who was primarily active in the West Indies. Born in Rome around 1730, Brunias spent his early career as a painter after graduating from the Accademia di San Luca. After he befriended prominent Scottish architect Robert Adam and accompanied him back to Britain, Brunias left for the British West Indies to continue his career in painting under the tutelage of Sir William Young. Although he was primarily commissioned to paint the various planter families and their plantations in the West Indies, he also painted several scenes featuring free people of colour and cultural life in the West Indies. Brunias spent most of his West Indian career on the island of Dominica, where he would die in 1796. Historians have made disparate assessments of Brunias's works; some praised his subversive depiction of West Indian culture, while others claimed it romanticised the harshness of plantation life. Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture was a prominent admirer of his work.


Early life

An engraving after an oil painting of Agostino Brunias titled Barbados Mulatto Girl. The Barbadoes Mulatto Girl.jpg
An engraving after an oil painting of Agostino Brunias titled Barbados Mulatto Girl.

Brunias was born in Rome c. 1730; the exact day and month of his birth is uncertain. His first name has been recorded in various ways, including Abraham, Alexander, August, or Austin, while his surname has been recorded as Brunais and Brunyas. [1] [2] He became a student at the Accademia di San Luca, one of the most prestigious art institutions in Rome. In 1752, he exhibited an oil painting, and in 1754 he won Third Prize in the Second Class for painting. [3] [4] Brunias met the prominent Scottish architect Robert Adam, who was on a Grand Tour studying the "magnificent ruins of Italy" between 1754 and 1756. Adams employed Brunias in his workshop in Rome, and Brunias accompanied Adams on his return to Britain in 1758. Brunias worked as a draughtsman and painter on many of Adam's building projects in Britain. Adam, praising his works, called Brunias a "bred painter". His murals and paintings covered the interior walls of several stately homes of the British upper class. [1] [2] [3] Surviving examples of Brunias' early work include five paintings in the classical style, which were commissioned to decorate the breakfast room at Kedleston Hall, now housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum. [5] By 1762, Brunias was residing in Broad Street, Carnaby Market, London and in 1763 and 1764, he exhibited at the Free Society of Artists. [3] [2]

Career in the West Indies

At the end of 1764, Brunias left London for the British West Indies under the employ of Sir William Young. Young was at that time newly-appointed "President of the Commission for the Sale of Ceded Lands in Dominica, Saint Vincent, Grenada and Tobago", following the Treaty of Paris, where the French had ceded the territories in the Lesser Antilles to the British. Then in 1768 Sir William Young was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Dominica, and in 1770 Young was appointed Governor of Dominica. Brunias accompanied Young on his travels through the West Indies. The opportunity provided him with subject matter including indigenous Carib life and evolving 18th-century creole cultures. His first sketches of the West Indies were done in Bridgetown in 1765, one of which was turned into a popular engraving titled "Barbados Mulatto Girl." Following Sir William Young, Brunias settled in settled in Dominica's capital, Roseau. [1] From the West Indies, Brunias submitted two drawings to the Society of Artists' exhibition of 1770 in London. [2] [6] Governor Young remained Brunias' primary patron until 1773, when he returned home to Britain.[ citation needed ]

Brunias completed many sketches, watercolors, and oil paintings in the Caribbean. Like many artists working in the Americas, Brunias returned to Britain around 1775 in order to promote and sell his growing collection of work. In 1777 and 1779, three of his West Indian paintings were shown at the Royal Academy. [7] He followed this accomplishment by publishing engravings of his West Indian paintings, some of which were "by his own hand". [6] [7] [2] During this time he also created wall paintings of "Caribbean aborigines" for the antelibrary at Stowe House. [1] During Brunias' absence from the West Indies, Dominica and St. Vincent were captured and occupied by the French; Britain did not regain the colonies until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1783. Brunias was finally able to return to Dominica in 1784, and remained there until his death on the island of Dominica in 1796. [1] He returned to Dominica and St. Vincent with commissions, including one for a set of botanical drawings from Alexander Anderson, curator of the Botanic Gardens of St. Vincent. [1]

During the Haitian Revolution in the 1790s, Toussaint Louverture, Haitian revolutionary and one of Brunias' supporters, wore eighteen buttons on his waistcoat which were each decorated with a different hand-painted miniature reproduction of Brunias' West Indian scenes. [8] [9] Engravings of his designs continued to be published posthumously. Harvard University's Fogg Museum, Yale Center for British Art and Tate (London) own examples of his works. [2] His work has also been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, [10] Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, [11] and The Brooklyn Museum. [12]

Artistic style and interpretations

Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape, ca. 1770-1796. Brooklyn Museum. Agostino Brunias - Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants in a Landscape - Google Art Project.jpg
Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape, ca. 1770-1796. Brooklyn Museum.

Brunias in his collected works is shown to be predominantly a figure painter, with strong classical influences. His association with Robert Adams in the 1760s places Brunias firmly within the early neoclassical, or first classic revival, movement in Britain. Although he occasionally painted landscapes and other subject matter, classically-influenced figures are the most common feature in his early work as well as in his later West Indian pieces. [13] In 1808, artist and critic Edward Edwards summarized Brunias body of work as consisting of "decorative subjects for panels and ceilings, both in colours and chiaroscuro," and of West Indian subject matter. [6]

His paintings of Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, and Barbados provide a valuable insight into life on these islands during the colonial period. His works depicts the influence of the diverse European, Caribbean, and African cultures prevalent in the 18th-century Caribbean. He was particularly adept at documenting 'Negro festivals', dances, markets, and other related cultural traditions, as well as showing the cultural customs of the indigenous Caribs. Brunias' sketches and paintings of Caribs have been noted by historians as being some of the best documented examples of indigenous Caribbean culture in 18th-century art. [8] [12] Brunias has also been noted by dress historians for his varied and diverse depictions of the styles of clothing worn by West Indians during the period. [1]

Although Brunias was mainly commissioned to depict the families of white planters in his first years in the Caribbean, especially by his patron Sir William Young, his works soon assumed a subversive political role in the Caribbean. To many, Brunias' depictions of Caribbean life appeared to be endorsing a free West Indian society absent of slavery, and historians have noted his work as exposing the artificiality of racial hierarchies in the West Indies. For example, Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants in a Landscape (c. 1764–96), an oil painting on canvas, depicts free men and women of color as privileged and prosperous. Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian revolutionary, was also a patron of Brunias' work during the Haitian Revolution. This connection has been noted by historians of displaying the cultural bonds between West Indians throughout the Caribbean. [8] [12]

At the same time, several historians have argued that Brunias' images of communities of color romanticized and obscured the harsh realities of life on West Indian plantations. [13] [3] According to Dominican historian Lennox Honychurch, Brunias' engravings were used by historian and politician Bryan Edwards in books he wrote about the history of the West Indies. Edwards was a staunch proslavery activist and an opponent of abolitionism, and interpreted the Brunias engravings to support his argument that enslavement was a happy and humane condition. [1]

Personal life

Born in Italy and achieving success in Britain, Agostino Brunias spent more than twenty-five years in the West Indies, where he primarily resided in Dominica. He is also known to have lived in St. Vincent, and he spent time on Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts, and Tobago.[ citation needed ]

He started a family in Rouseau, Dominica around 1774, shortly before he returned to Britain, and was then separated from them by the outbreak of the American War of Independence. From church records it seems that his children's mother was a "free mulatto woman" and that they had at least two children. After being reunited with his family after nearly ten years, he remained with them in Roseau until his death. [1] Several historians have suggested that Brunias' identity as an Italian Catholic made him sympathetic to the diverse, creolized Catholic community that had formed under French colonial rule before 1763, and somewhat alienated him from the Protestant society of the British emigrant planters. [1] [14]

He died on 2 April 1796 at the age of 66, and was buried in the Catholic cemetery on the site of the present-day Roseau Cathedral. [3]

Related Research Articles

The first written records in the history of Dominica began in November 1493, when Christopher Columbus spotted the island. Prior to European contact, Dominica was inhabited by the Arawak. Dominica was a French colony from 1715 until the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, and then became a British colony from 1763 to 1978. It became an independent nation in 1978.

Roseau is the capital and largest city of Dominica, with a population of 14,725 as of 2011. It is a small and compact urban settlement, in the Saint George parish and surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, the Roseau River and Morne Bruce. Built on the site of the ancient Island Carib village of Sairi, it is the oldest and most important urban settlement on the island of Dominica.

Kalinago Group of people who live in Venezuela and the Lesser Antilles islands

The Kalinago, also known as the Island Caribs or simply Caribs, are an indigenous people of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. They may have been related to the Mainland Caribs (Kalina) of South America, but they spoke an unrelated language known as Island Carib. They also spoke a pidgin language associated with the Mainland Caribs.

Music of Dominica Music of Dominica

The music of Dominica includes a variety of genres including all the popular genres of the world. Popular music is widespread, with a number of native Dominican performers gaining national fame in imported genres such as calypso, reggae, soca, kompa, zouk and rock and roll. Dominica's own popular music industry has created a form called bouyon, which combines elements from several styles and has achieved a wide fanbase in Dominica. Groups include WCK, Native musicians in various forms, such as reggae, kadans (Ophelia Marie, and calypso, have also become stars at home and abroad.

Antilles Archipelago bordering the north and east of the Caribbean Sea

The Antilles is an archipelago bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east.

French West Indies French territories in the Caribbean

The term French West Indies or French Antilles refers to the parts of France located in the Antilles islands of the Caribbean:

Antillean Creole French-based creole of the Lesser Antilles

Antillean Creole is a French-based creole that is primarily spoken in the Lesser Antilles. Its grammar and vocabulary include elements of Carib, English, and African languages.

Culture of Dominica

The culture of Dominica is formed by the inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Dominica. Dominica is home to a wide range of people. Although it was historically occupied by several native tribes, the Taíno and Island Caribs (Kalinago) tribes remained by the time European settlers reached the island. "Massacre" is a name of a river dedicated to the murders of the native villagers by French and British settlers, because the river ran red with blood for days. Each claimed the island and imported slaves from Africa. The remaining Caribs now live on a 3,700-acre (15 km2) Carib Territory on the east coast of the island. They elect their own chief.

Phyllis Shand Allfrey

Phyllis Byam Shand Allfrey was a West Indian writer, socialist activist, newspaper editor and politician of the island of Dominica in the Caribbean. She is best known for her first novel, The Orchid House (1953), based on her own early life, which in 1991 was turned into a Channel 4 television miniseries of the same name in the United Kingdom.

Exile One is a cadence musical group founded by Gordon Henderson in the 1970s with musicians invited over from Dominica, to be based in Guadeloupe. The band was influential in the development of Caribbean music. It became famous throughout the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and the Indian Ocean. Exile One opened the way for numerous Cadence-Lypso artists as well as for Zouk.

Dominica Country in the Caribbean

Dominica, officially the Commonwealth of Dominica, is an island country in the Caribbean. The capital, Roseau, is located on the western side of the island. It is geographically situated as part of the Windward Islands chain in the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. Dominica's closest neighbours are two constituent territories of the European Union and Eurozone, the overseas departments of the French Republic, Guadeloupe to the northwest and Martinique to the south-southeast. Dominica comprises a land area of 750 km2 (290 sq mi), and the highest point is Morne Diablotins, at 1,447 m (4,747 ft) in elevation. The population was 71,293 at the 2011 census.

Caribbean Region in and around the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean is a region of the Americas that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America and north of South America islets, reefs and cays. Island arcs delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea: the Greater Antilles and the Lucayan Archipelago on the north and the Lesser Antilles and the on the south and east. They form the West Indies with the nearby Lucayan Archipelago, which are considered to be part of the Caribbean despite not bordering the Caribbean Sea. On the mainland, Belize, Nicaragua, the Caribbean region of Colombia, Cozumel, the Yucatán Peninsula, Margarita Island, and the Guianas are often included due to their political and cultural ties with the region.

Index of Dominica-related articles Wikipedia index

The following is an alphabetical list of topics related to the nation of Dominica.

The Baháʼí Faith in Dominica begins with a mention by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, in 1916 as Latin America being among the places Baháʼís should take the religion to. The island of Dominica was specifically listed as an objective for plans on spreading the religion in 1939 by Shoghi Effendi, who succeeded ʻAbdu'l-Baha as head of the religion. In 1983, William Nedden is credited with being the first pioneer to Dominica at the festivities associated with the inaugural election of the Dominican Baháʼís National Spiritual Assembly with Hand of the Cause, Dhikru'llah Khadem representing the Universal House of Justice. Later research records Ivor Ellard arrived two days before, April 17, 1966. The first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly of Dominica was elected in 1976. Since then, Baháʼís have participated in several projects for the benefit of the wider community, and in 2001 various sources report between less than 1.4% and up to 1.7% of the island's approximately 70,000 citizens are Baháʼís.

Roseau Cathedral

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Fair Haven of Roseau, originally known in French as Église de Notre-Dame du Bon Port du Mouillage de Roseau, is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Roseau, the capital city of Dominica in the Caribbean. The church is the see of the Diocese of Dominica, suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Castries, Saint Lucia.

Dominica Botanical Gardens

Dominica Botanic Gardens is located on the Caribbean island-nation of Dominica, in the capital of Roseau. Once known as one of the finest botanical gardens in the region, it was severely damaged by Hurricane David in 1979. Following restoration efforts, it remains a focus of cultural life in Roseau, and a center of conservation research on Dominica.

Languages of the Caribbean Languages of the region

The languages of the Caribbean reflect the region's diverse history and culture. There are six official languages spoken in the Caribbean:

Sir William Young, 1st Baronet, of North Dean

Sir William Young, 1st Baronet (1724/5–1788) was a British politician and sugar plantation and slave owner. He served as President of the Commission for the Sale of Lands in the Ceded Islands, and was appointed the first non-military Governor of Dominica in 1768.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Honychurch, Lennox (October 10, 2003). "Chatoyer's Artist: Agostino Brunias and the depiction of St Vincent". Cave Hill, Barbados: The University of the West Indies. Archived from the original on December 15, 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Sutton, Peter C. "Agostino Brunias c. 1730 – Dominica, c. 1796". Madrid, Spain: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 23 June 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Meeks, Brian; Lindahl, Folke (2001). New Caribbean thought: a reader. University of the West Indies Press. pp. 250–. ISBN   978-976-640-103-0 . Retrieved 23 June 2011.
  4. Fleming, John (1962). Robert Adam and his circle, in Edinburgh & Rome. Harvard University Press. p. 360. ISBN   9780674774605 . Retrieved 23 June 2011.
  5. Brunias, Agostino (1759–1760). "Decorative painting for Kedleston Hall". Victoria and Albert Museum Collections. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  6. 1 2 3 Edwards, Edward (1808). ""Augustine Brunias"". Anecdotes of painters who have resided or been born in England; with critical remarks on their productions. London: Leigh and Sotheby. pp. 65–66.
  7. 1 2 Nussbaum, Felicity A (13 July 2005). The Global Eighteenth Century. JHU Press. pp. 351–. ISBN   978-0-8018-8269-2 . Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  8. 1 2 3 "Brooklyn Museum Acquires 18th Century Painting by Agostino Brunias Depicting Colonial Elite". Art Daily. Brooklyn, New York . Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  9. Geracimos, Anne (January 2000). "A Mystery in Miniature: An enigmatic button once decorated the uniform of Haitian liberator Toussaint Louverture". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  10. "Search | V&A Explore the Collections".
  11. "Agostino Brunias | People | Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum".
  12. 1 2 3 4 "Brooklyn Museum".
  13. 1 2 Bagneris, Mia L. "Project Description Local Colors: Interracial Sexuality and the Mixed-Race Body in the Caribbean Canvases of Agostino Brunias". Cambridge, Massachusetts: WEB du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University. Archived from the original on 30 April 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
  14. Bagneris, Mia (2017). Colouring the Caribbean: Race and the art of Agostino Brunias. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  15. "A West Indian Flower Girl and Two other Free Women of Color - YCBA Collections Search".
  16. "A Mother with her Son and a Pony - YCBA Collections Search".
  17. "Servants Washing a Deer - YCBA Collections Search".
  18. "View on the River Roseau, Dominica".
  19. "Free West Indian Dominicans - YCBA Collections Search".
  20. "This Plate (Representing a Cudgelling Match between English and French Negroes in the Island of Dominica,) is humbly dedicated to Sir Ralph Payne".
  21. "A Linen Market with a Linen-stall and Vegetable Seller in the West Indies - YCBA Collections Search".
  22. "A West Indian Creole Woman Attended by her Black Servant - YCBA Collections Search".
  23. "Market Day, Roseau, Dominica". Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  24. "Free West Indian Creoles in Elegant Dress - YCBA Collections Search".
  25. "West Indian Man of Color, Directing Two Carib Women with a Child - YCBA Collections Search".
  26. "Linen Market, Dominica - YCBA Collections Search".
  27. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. "Button (Haiti)". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  28. Brunias, Agostino. "A Negro Festival, drawn from Nature in the Island of St Vincent/ from an original picture by Agostino Brunais, in the possession of Sir William Young Bart F.R.S'". National Maritime Museum. Greenwich, London: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection.
  29. "Chatoyer the Chief of the Black Charaibes in St. Vincent with his five Wives".