The surviving character descriptions and images of Jean-Jacques Dessalines differ drastically but most tend to portray him in a negative light. In recent years, however, a more complicated picture is beginning to emerge of Dessalines as a person, a military general, and a political leader. “Best known for his military brilliance and his violence against French planters in the wake of independence,” Laurent Dubois argues, “he deserves as much attention for his rhetorical and ideological interventions as well as his determined and skillful diplomatic negotiations with foreign powers.” Foreign observers were not usually kind in their descriptions of him and they emphasized his alleged ferocity and his illiteracy. Deborah Jenson has recently argued that we need to rethink the claims that Dessalines was born in Saint-Domingue since the earliest first-person accounts all describe him as “Bossale” or “African.” There is still a great deal to be learned about Dessalines and I am hopeful that Madison Smartt Bell’s forthcoming biography will help fill in some of the gaps.
Here, I am attempting to collect as many images of Dessalines as possible (and will arrange them in chronological order) to see if any kind of patter emerges. Please send images or links to images if you have them! (I am sure that there are more than the ones below – I couldn’t find source information for some of the images floating around online).
Dubroca, Vida de J.J. Dessalines, gefe de los negros de Santo Domingo, 1806. (Spanish translation):
Tabby McIntosh commented below and linked to this amazing sculpture of Dessalines at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich! Thanks!
Lindsay J. Twa’s article “Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Demon, Demigod, and Everything in Between,” reproduced this image of a statue of Dessalines from 1904. It was erected first in Port-au-Prince and then moved to Gonaives. Thanks to Greg Pierrot for commenting below and linking to the image!
Greg Pierrot commented below and shared a link to this mural. We haven’t found any information about the artist or the location of the mural in Port-au-Prince – does anyone have any additional information? Thanks, Greg!
An update, courtesy of Greg: the source information for the mural is, according to Lindsay J. Twa: “Anonymous, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806), from series: Heros de l’independence d’Haiti (1804-1806), painting in the National Palace, Port-au-Prince. Published through Haitian tourist bureau, special issue: “Tricinquantenaire de l’Indépendance d’Haïti,” Formes et Couleurs 12.1 (1954). W. E. B. Du Bois Collection, Special Collections Fisk University, Nashville.”
This one as well. I’ve seen it everywhere but I’m not sure who did it. It says it’s from a mural in Port-au-Prince?
Yes, I saw that one online but since I couldn’t find source information, I didn’t post it. I didn’t know it was a mural – amazing!
There’s also this painting, apparently a 19th century mural in Port-au-Prince?
The first stamp appears to be derived from it.
Interesting c19th wooden bust of him held at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich: http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/254418.html
Wow! This is amazing! Also frustrating that they don’t have any information about the artist.
By the way, have you seen this article? In it an historian from Guadeloupe claims that Dessalines was the slave of Toussaint’s daughter:
Hi Julia, keep up the good work! Apparently, Mike Tyson has a seven-foot statue of Dessalines near his swimming pool in Los Angeles. Wouldn’t it be great to see it?
Hi Julia, apparently, Mike Tyson has a seven-foot statue of Dessalines in his backyard. I would love to see that!
The particular nature of Dessalines portraits produced for the domestic market in the early 1840s: Candler, Brief Notices of Hayti. 1842, p163:
We visited the store-shop of an artist, to look over his collection of views of the city and port, which we found very hard and meagre; some copied portraits interested us greatly — Petion, Christophe, Dessalines, and others. That of Dessalines, in his scarlet uniform, we should suppose, from his known character, to be true to the original, fierce, ignorant, and cruel — the picture of a chief, who, as the Haytiens say of him, “never spared a man in his anger,” and who was remorseless in all his doings.
Thanks, Tabby! This is great! It’s interesting that “fierce, ignorant, and cruel” become physical descriptions!
So as I was roaming around, something struck me that seems particularly obvious in the way you organized images:the statue, the Stewart engraving, the stamps and the mural are fairly clearly all derived from each other. The cocked hat worn like so, the three feathers, the collar and the laurel wreaths on the lapels suggest so much. As far as I can tell, the oldest artifact among them is the statue. It makes me wonder if an earlier image of him did not circulate that somehow is not quite in the record.
Oh, and Lindsay J. Twa in “Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Demon, Demigod, and Everything in Between,” has this information about the mural: “Anonymous, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806), from series: Heros de l’independence d’Haiti (1804-1806), painting in the National Palace, Port-au-Prince. Published through Haitian tourist bureau, special issue: “Tricinquantenaire de l’Indépendance d’Haïti,” Formes et Couleurs 12.1 (1954). W. E. B. Du Bois Collection, Special Collections Fisk University, Nashville. ”
Her article also mentions a Dessalines statue by Normil Charles erected in Port-au-Prince in 1904, and later moved to the Gonaives town hall, which again evokes the same bust of Dessalines (I think you can see even though the photo is taken from afar). The 1953 statue was made after the mural, apparently.
A link to her article:
Thanks, Greg! I’ve updated the post! I agree that the late 19th-20th c. images all seem to be similar… Hopefully you’ll be able to find the original image and then the mystery will be solved!
You don’t seem to have the 1870s Louis Rigaud oil paintings attained by the Smithsonian in 1885 and now at the Peabody. Clearly identical to the mural. Thought this was particularly fascinating in terms of the proliferation of reproducible and mutually reinforcing grammar of Dessalines images: ‘at least some of these paintings seem to have possibly begun as images that were transferred to the canvas photo-mechanically and then covered with paint.’
‘An early 19th century carved boxwood figure probably depicting Jean-Jacques Dessalines.’
The hat’s all wrong: doubt it.
Late c.19th carved bust by Ulysse Dabouze – Dessalines and Pétion twofer. Sneer of cold command, hat &c., as mural/Rigaud.
1841 portrait that has all the established detail:
c.19th Busts (Ulysse Dabuzi et al):
This one with Henry (swoon):