Feb 21, 2008 - Sale 2137

Sale 2137 - Lot 69

Estimate: $ 15,000 - $ 25,000
(SLAVERY AND ABOLITION.) Collection of thirty-two original watercolor drawings of the West Coast of Africa. On paper, average size 20 x 25 inches to 22 x 30 inches; accompanied by a map, 20 x 23 3/4 inches. Some creases and wear with occasional professional conservation. (Africa, circa 1850-1860)

Additional Details

A unique group of watercolor drawings, executed in the manner of an expedition's or "ship's artist" of the 18th and 19th century. Before the age of photography, the eye of the ship's artist was the only means of making a visual record. While at times somewhat naïve, these drawings were intended to be accurate, rather than aesthetically pleasing or sophisticated. Stylistic differences suggest that the work here is by two distinct artists. Most of the scenes depicted are in Cameroon (Gabon), Sierra Leone, and Liberia with three distinct maps, six topographical works showing the various coastlines, both inhabited (with careful depictions of villages), and uninhabited (simply rocky promontories). One drawing shows two enormous trees with a detailed drawing of the Western Coast and the Bight of Benin in the background. Along this coast are all the well-known slave factories at Whyda, Lagos, Bonny Island, Calabar and Great Popo. Several others are complex scenes of village life, with one showing a burial, and mourning as well as the killing of a witch with what seems to be a bearded "mullah" standing in attendance. Another shows "Kroomen" rowing a long canoe while a "Slaver Cutter" (sic) lies anchored nearby. There are numerous drawings of natives at various activities, several with multiple images of tools, baskets, etc. Most of the pieces are captioned; some simply carry identifying words or phrases within the work. Several show in great detail the various fortifications at Cabo Corso, on the Ghana coast, and St George de Mina (Sao Joao da Mina), the first European fortress built on the West African coast in 1482.

While only a couple of these watercolors explicitly identify a slave-ship or mention slavery, this portion of the West African coast was notorious for its slave "factories," such as those of Cape Coast Castle, Cabo Corso and St. George de Mina. Slaves continued to be taken in great numbers, despite the British interdiction after 1807 and the general emancipation of 1834. With hundreds of miles of coast to patrol, the British cutters could only cover a limited portion and were, in many cases "out-gunned" by the slavers whose ships were generally armed with cannon. The artists responsible for this collection of watercolors were very possibly attached to one of the British patrol vessels or perhaps to a mission.