"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Paul Cuffee

This silhouette c. 1830 portrait of Captain Paul Cuffee by Mason & Maas, after a drawing by John Pole, was on display at the National Portrait Gallery in an exhibition on the art of silhouette.
Though rare, inspirational silhouettes of African Americans circulated widely in early America. Paul Cuffee, the son of a freed African man and Wampanoag woman, owned and commanded sailing vessels from Massachusetts, and helped colonize Sierra Leone in the early 1800s. Memorials to Cuffee describe him as “tall and athletic—of noble bearing” and possessing “humility, civility, fortitude.” 
This print, created around 1850, and based on a drawing by John Pole of Bristol, England, was commissioned by the Philadelphia-area antislavery activist Abraham L. Pennock, who sought to promote Cuffee's story and inspire abolitionists.

The landscape probably represents Sierra Leone, and the date “1812” likely signifies the year Cuffee's vessel Traveller was seized by U.S. Customs for transporting British goods during an embargo. Traveller had carried African Americans from the United States to the then British colony of Sierra Leone, then returned with cargo via England. After Cuffee appealed to President James Madison, his goods were released. -- NPG 
 Landscape, perhaps Sierra Leone

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