Abyssinia, 1867–1868: Artists on Campaign; Watercolors and Drawings from the British Expedition under Sir Robert Napier

June 11–September 7, 2003


AbyssiniaThis exhibition presents drawings and watercolors by Robert Baigrie, Adam George Forbes Hogg, and William Simpson, artists who traveled to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) with a military expedition led by Sir Robert Napier in 1868. In a world now linked by techniques of instant news transmission, these images characterize the very different ways by which information was recorded and disseminated in the nineteenth-century. With Baigrie’s explanatory text written on the reverse, the drawings were sent from Abyssinia to England by mail or, more efficiently, in diplomatic pouches, to be published in the Illustrated London News—Britain’s most popular weekly newspaper.

Readers of the Illustrated London News assimilated the visual and textual information conveyed by the drawings and texts into the British nation’s already romanticized perception of Abyssinia. The landscapes, figure studies, and accompanying narratives embody many nineteenth-century European stereotypes of Africa. Practicing a kind of “visual imperialism,” Baigrie, Hogg, and Simpson represent Abyssinia and its inhabitants as belonging to an exotic and primitive culture. Upon the drawings’ arrival in London, local artists completed any unfinished works, often inserting figures that conformed to their own stereotypical impressions of a remote and exotic African world.

These drawings have been collected by Frederic A. and Jean S. Sharf. This exhibition was organized by the McMullen Museum of Art with an accompanying catalogue by Frederic Sharf, David Northrup (Professor of History, Boston College), and Richard Pankhurst (Professor, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa).

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