Brooklyn Museum Courts Controversy, 18th-Century Style

The Brooklyn Museum has made a rare purchase from a London Gallery, adding to its paintings collection an artwork that was subversive in its time.

The museum has purchased Free Women of Color With Their Children and Servants in a Landscape, by Italian artist Agostino Brunias.

It’s a portrait of the mixed-race colonial elite of the West Indies in the late 18th century. Women are shown accompanied by their mother and their children, along with African servants, as they walk on the grounds of a sugar plantation. Brunias documents these women of color much as Thomas Gainsborough would have painted British high society, as privileged and prosperous.

According to the museum, Brunias was originally commissioned to promote upper-class plantation life, but his works soon became more political. He endorsed a free, anti-slavery society and exposed the artificialities of racial hierarchies in the region.

The painting’s price was undisclosed; It will go on view March 11.

It’s the second notable New York museum acquisition in a week: As reported previously, the Museum of Modern Art has purchased and put on view the David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly, which was removed from a National Portrait Gallery exhibition last fall. It was removed after pressure from some Congressional Republicans, who had found the work offensive to Christians. Art lovers can decide for themselves The video is on view in its “Contemporary Art from the Collection” exhibition through May 11.

Brooklyn Museum Courts Controversy, 18th-Century Style