'Portrait of a Boy called Negro*'
‘Portrait of a Boy called Negro*’ is a photographic work that originated from the Dutch painting ‘Portret van een jager met neger en honden’ (Portrait of a Hunter with Negro and Dogs) by Willem Eversdijck made in 1660-1669. The original painting is part of the art collection of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands.
The boy in the painting represents an often unknown or hidden phenomenon in the history of Dutch portrait painting. There are numbers of paintings (often in private collections or depots) that show young, black persons next to former high society members of the Netherlands. These boys are depicted as servants, sometimes in special uniforms and sometimes with slave collars around their necks. They are most of the time painted in the background and almost never mentioned by name in titles or databases.
(Art) historians have different explanations for this phenomenon. Some argue that the black boys were pure symbolic, that they didn’t exist, and served only as a symbol of wealth and colonial trade. Others have more and more proof that young black servants were indeed present in Europe.
Unfortunately, there is also no information about the boy in the painting of Eversdijck. The work ‘Portrait of a Boy called Negro*’ therefore wants to go beyond the question of being real or imaginary. It wants to focus on the phenomenon as such and open up a way of thinking about these anonymous people that are part of our Dutch history and identity.
By reframing the original painting and turning it into an extremely high definition photograph, shot with a high-end digital camera to capture all details, the boy has changed from obscure background figure to main character and from paint to pixels.
'Portrait of a Boy called Negro*' was part of the exhibition 'Iridescence' in Huize Frankendael, Amsterdam 2014.
* The racist term 'Negro' is used in this work to critically address the use of this term in titles of artworks and in historical databases in The Netherlands.