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Finding Edmonia Lewis and Others

M. Richardson

Writer, curator, researcher

The emphasis is on 19th-Century African American artists Edmonia Lewis, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Edward Mitchell Bannister, and Meta Warrick Fuller.

Phillis Wheatley or Dido Elizabeth Belle?

  • Image identified as Phillis Wheatley

    Image identified as Phillis Wheatley

    Revue des Colonies (Paris, c.1835)

  • Detail, portrait of Elizabeth Murray and her cousin, Dido Elizabeth Belle

    Detail, portrait of Elizabeth Murray and her cousin, Dido Elizabeth Belle

    Scone Palace, Perth, Scotland

  • Frontispiece portrait of Phillis Wheatley, author of "Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral" (London, 1773)

    Frontispiece portrait of Phillis Wheatley, author of "Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral" (London, 1773)

    Poems on Various Subjects… (1773)

Now that we have the fascinating story of Dido Belle, let’s take another look at the supposed portrait of the American slave and literary prodigy, Phillis Wheatley, in evening dress (Image 1). Published in a French review in the 1830s, long after Wheatley’s death, there is virtually no documentation to establish the subject’s identity. The historical context suggests it is far more likely a depiction of Dido Belle.

(Image 2) Detail from double portrait of Elizabeth Murray and her cousin, Dido Elizabeth Belle by an unknown artist (formerly att. Johann Zoffany). Scotland (1779). Oil on canvas. Scone Palace, Perth. Private collection of the Earl of Mansfield.

The engraved portrait of Phillis Wheatley (Image 3) was used as the frontispiece to her collection of poems, Reflections on Various Subjects Religious and Moral (London, 1773). It is attributed to the poet and visual artist Scipio Moorhead, a slave in Boston, Massachusetts, and a friend of Phillis Wheatley. One element of the identification of the  portrait as Wheatley might have been a mention of the subject’s finger held to her cheek.

More posts from Finding Edmonia Lewis and Others

Lewis Indian Group
  • December 30, 2010

Written by Marilyn Richardson. Gabriel's Auctioneers in Norwood, Massachusetts, was surprised that almost as soon as illustrated ads for its November 29, 2010, auction appeared online ...

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  • January 9, 2011

Cultural historian Marilyn Richardson has solved one of the persistent mysteries of American art history: where and when did the sculptor Edmonia Lewis die? The answer is, London, ...

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Bust of Christ by Edmonia Lewis, 1870
  • September 15, 2015

EXCITING EDMONIA LEWIS DISCOVERY An important discovery has been made of an1870 Bust of Christ by the Afro-Indian sculptor Edmonia Lewis (1842-1907). It was created for the Marquis of ...

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