oil on panel
10 x 7 1/2 in. (25.4 x 19.05 cm)
Gift of Paul and Anima Katz, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA. Artwork in the public domain.
Scottish painter Robert Gavin was known for his interest in Orientalism, the exaggerated and imaginative scenes often depicting people in North Africa and the Middle East. The same fascination with exoticism would lead Gavin to travel to the United States in 1868 to take on a new subject: Black and mixed-race people in New Orleans. This painting, likely produced during his time in Louisiana, depicts a Creole girl of mixed European and Black descent. The unnamed girl’s soft features and brown skin are emphasized by the tignon wrapped around her head. A tignon was a piece of cloth worn as a turban headdress by free and enslaved Creole women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For fear of Creole women passing for white given their various shades of skin, Euro-Americans passed sumptuary laws to restrict the dress and appearance of people of color. However, Creole women subverted these laws by using colorful headscarves to enhance their appearance.