black women

A Beautiful Slave Is Made Into A French Icon

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french artBy Lechette Walker

The 18th century preserved images of the young black servant, Paul, appeared in two pieces of French art during a time of unannounced black beauty or significance.  This figure that was completed prerevolutionary in France represents a young black slave that was obviously a servant to a wealthy family. Aignan-Thomas Desfriches, who was the head of the family, encountered wealth, and social status because of his exhibited display of the enslaved servant. Desfriches, being a business man and artist saw the value in capturing the essence of the unique characteristics of the slave’s features.

The 1760 statue details his essences of beauty with a feathered turban, and a fleecy jacket. The slave collar is obvious to the figures appearance, while expressing his status as an enslaved house servant.

There is not much known about Paul, and the accounts of how he ended up in the city of Orleans in north-central France is unknown.

The other image of Paul that was illustrated by Desfriches in 1761, displays Paul near his master’s family on the bank of Loire. His appearance in the art, displays him with the same characteristics as his first manifestation to the art exhibits.  The well dress servant example that was meant to impress the observers was proficiently detailed to preserve the uniqueness of the entire scene portrayed.

At the time more than 4,000 to 5,000 black people lived in France during the 18th century. The official edict of 1738, declared that black people could legally remain in France for only three years and they could not marry. There is no trace of Paul ancestry or offspring, not saying that he was not returned to his original colony after the edict of 1738; however, there are no records to support his journey.

The images of the Paul can be viewed at the Image of Black in Western Art Archive at Harvard University’s W.E.B DuBois Research Institute, contributing this work as part of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.



  1. Harold

    February 19, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    He must have served them well. A snitch? A bafoon? I do not know. I do know we have many blacks around today who will do almost anything for money, fame, and power.

    • Isis

      February 20, 2014 at 12:53 am

      The difference is, back during that time, you had no choice. Today you do, but, do it anyway. It’s called self-hatered.

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