Latitudes of Tenderness: Imagining Nouvelle France in the Ancien Régime

J. Cabelle Ahn

From whatever country moral lessons should come to us, it is always welcome; but should we have to turn to the Savages to seek lessons in paternal and maternal tenderness?
Anonymous, Galimatias: anti-critique des tableaux du Salon (1781) [1]

At first glance, the Salon of 1781 of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture is not the most obvious lens through which to analyze the construction of race in eighteenth-century French art. According to the Mémoires secrets, a newsletter edited by Louis Petit de Bachaumont, that year’s Salon was most noteworthy for the inaugural use of the staircase designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot and Maximilien Brébion.[2] More recent scholarly accounts of the Salon of 1781 have overwhelmingly focused on the neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David, who was exhibiting for the first time since his return from Rome. Yet alongside now-canonical paintings such as David’s Belisarius (1781), viewers would have encountered a canvas entitled A Canadian and His Wife Crying at the Tomb of their Child (1781) by the Rouen-born history painter Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier (1738-1826), who was also making his Salon debut (Fig. 1). The painting depicts two seated figures in an Arcadian landscape flanking a rustic tomb: a bare-chested man with tawny skin cradling his head in his hand, and a classically draped, lighter-skinned woman holding her exposed right breast in a manner evocative of the Madonna Lactans (the Nursing Madonna).

Fig. 1. Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier, Un canadien et sa femme pleurant sur le tombeau de leur enfant, 1781. Oil on canvas, 64 x 80 cm. Musée des beaux-arts de Rouen, Rouen. Image Source: Centre de documentation du musée des beaux-arts de Rouen.

Le Barbier’s canvas was an outlier in subject matter when compared to the artist’s other entries, which included academic nudes and history paintings on topics such as the Siege of Beauvais and the Siege of Kassel.[3] It was also the first significant French academic attempt to visualize and conceptualize Indigenous Canadians, rather than simply parrot pre-existing codes associated with the depiction of “America” in continental allegories. Although Le Barbier’s painting evaded critical attention for several reasons discussed below, his composition had a long visual legacy. It was engraved by François-Robert Ingouf in 1786 (Fig. 2) and realized in terracotta by Joseph-Charles Marin, both of which were exhibited at the Salons of 1793 and 1795, respectively.[4]

Fig. 2. François Robert Ingouf, after Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier, Canadiens au tombeau de leur enfant, 1786. Engraving, etching, and roulette, 53 x 37 cm. Gift of C.P.D. Pape, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Image in the public domain.

Situating Le Barbier’s painting within the Salon and the wider culture of metropolitan Paris reveals how we might understand it in relation to racial hierarchies and stereotypes that were becoming increasingly standardized in eighteenth-century French visual culture. Previous discussions of Le Barbier’s painting have read it either as a curious iteration of prevailing sentimentalism in genre painting or as one of many works that capitalized on new ideas about motherhood.[5] More recently, the mention of Canada in the painting’s title has also led scholars and curators to single it out in nearly all discussions of French portrayals of North American Indigeneity.[6]

On the one hand, the considerable scholarly expectations projected onto this painting underscore the paucity of French settler (not to mention Indigenous Canadian) perspectives in surviving eighteenth-century French primary sources. In fact, of the 161 publications published between 1505 and 1778 about Nouvelle France, the North American region colonized by the French Crown from 1534 to 1763, only one was written by an actual habitant, a term used for settlers of French origin in the colony.[7] Such structural gaps in the archive have complicated decolonial advances in scholarship.[8] On the other hand, the continued focus on the image as an index of French ideas about Canadian Indigeneity at this moment has deflected broader considerations of the painting’s exhibition and reception.

This article attempts a tripartite reading of Le Barbier’s painting alongside public and academic discourses on Nouvelle France, Indigeneity, and contemporary fabrications of race. I first discuss the fraught status of the painting’s source material to highlight the contested politics inherent in its display. I then question how the canvas promoted—both culturally and visually—a conception of Canadian Indigeneity that was founded on a misguided hierarchy of racial difference that was widespread in eighteenth-century French visual, literary, and theatrical arts. Finally, I revisit the painting alongside the artistic program of the period, particularly the rhetoric of motherhood and parental charity, and show how they helped induct Nouvelle France into an expanded classical canon. I argue that Le Barbier’s painting evoked contemporary public nostalgia for Nouvelle France (which France lost to Britain in the wake of the Seven Years’ War), a collective longing that was based on a hypocritical system of racial affinity over difference and that concealed France’s historic subjugation of Indigenous North Americans. Ultimately, I aim both to arrive at a fuller understanding of how a broader French colonial imaginary infiltrated the Paris Salon, and to consider how artworks in this period can be embroiled in a visual politics of race that is not always immediately apparent.

A Banned Source

Le Barbier’s painting was entwined with the fate of Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, abbé de Raynal’s Histoire philosophique et politique, des établissements & du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (1770; hereafter abbreviated to Histoire des deux Indes), a renowned publication described as “an encyclopedic philosophical history of European colonization throughout the world.”[9] Le Barbier aimed to visualize a portion of Raynal’s text devoted to the government, customs, and history of Indigenous Canadians, in which Raynal highlighted the following mourning practice: “We sometimes see two spouses go, after six months, to shed tears on the tomb of a child, and there, the mother pours her breastmilk.”[10] Yet in the Salon’s printed catalogue or livret, which was purchased by roughly half of the 35,000 visitors that year, the painting is described slightly differently: “The Canadians love their children so strongly that we have sometimes seen two spouses, six months after the death of their child, go weep on their tomb, and there, the mother pours her breast milk.”[11] Three aspects of the livret’s quotation are particularly revealing: its omission of the text’s source (neither Raynal’s name nor the title of his publication appears), its introduction of the plural term “Canadians,” and its emphasis on the love these “Canadians” had for their children. These three changes, I propose, have much to tell us about how Le Barbier’s painting reflected late eighteenth-century French understandings of Canada and Canadian Indigeneity.

Fig. 3. Parlement de Paris, Arrest de la cour de Parlement, qui condamne un imprimé , en 10 vol. in-8°, ayant pour titre : Histoire philosophique & politique des etablissemens & du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, par Guillaume-Thomas Raynal; à Genève, chez Jean-Léonard Pellet, imprimeur de la ville et de l’Académie, M. DCC. LXXX, à être lacéré & brûlé par l’exécuteur de la Haute-Justice, 1781. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Image in the public domain. Image source:

The livret’s failure to cite Raynal reflects his book’s controversial fate. Histoire des deux Indes was initially issued in six volumes in 1770 and revised in 1774 and 1780, with each edition directly intervening in contemporary political debates.[12] The publication was immensely popular, and the 1774 edition is found in Le Barbier’s posthumous inventory.[13] However, on May 29, 1781, the Paris Parliament outlawed the text and ordered existing copies shredded and burned for inciting the public to rebel against sovereign authority (Fig. 3).[14] The banning of the book and Raynal’s subsequent exile were instigated by what the court and the church saw as the work’s seemingly emancipationist undertone. The outrage extended across the Atlantic, as the Seminary of Quebec purchased 110 copies of the 1780 edition for the express purpose of removing them from public circulation, describing Histoire des deux Indes as a “scandalous poison.”[15] Official condemnation, however, backfired and only enhanced the text’s notoriety in the press.[16]

It was against this backdrop that Le Barbier’s canvas debuted at the Salon. Using Raynal as source material for an academic painting less than three months after its condemnation would have struck some contemporary viewers as a radical act. But if Le Barbier had hoped to attract public attention through his painted adaptation of the divisive text, this, too, backfired; the censure of Histoire des deux Indes may have ultimately contributed to the relative critical brevity the painting received in the press. In his analysis of Le Barbier’s canvas, Denis Diderot reproduced the livret’s altered version of Raynal’s extract without identifying Raynal as the author, and tersely dismissed the canvas as “neither bad nor good,” a description whose pithiness cleverly elided Diderot’s own clandestine contribution to Raynal’s text.[17] In fact, it was only in 1786 that a full bibliographical citation (i.e. the relevant volume and page numbers) for Le Barbier’s canvas was explicitly publicized via the popular engraving by Ingouf (Fig. 2).[18] Even so, in my view, the reception of Le Barbier’s canvas, and subsequent analysis of Canadian Indigeneity through this painting, are inseparable from contemporary public malcontent of the censoring of Raynal’s Histoires des deux Indes and Le Barbier’s seemingly conscious engagement with this dissatisfaction at large.

The livret’s conspicuous silence about the role of Raynal in the source material is perhaps unsurprising given the book’s condemnation. But might there be more to the apparent fabrication of the term “Canadians,” instead of keeping Le Barbier’s title as “un Canadien et sa femme”—a Canadian and his wife? To unpack the wider connotations of the term “Canadian,” we might first look to the words of a contemporary review of the painting. Writing in 1781, the anonymous critic quoted at the start of this essay described the geographic location as “the latitude of the Iroquois” and asked, “from whatever country moral lessons should come to us…should one turn to the Savages to seek lessons of paternal and maternal tenderness?”[19] The review pointedly identifies the painting’s protagonists as “Iroquois” (Haudenosaunee Confederacy) and foregrounds parenthood as the painting’s central theme. In doing so, the critic assigns geographical specificity to the mourning practice Le Barbier portrays.

Fig. 4. Joseph F. Lafitau, “Plate 24” in Moeurs Des Sauvages Amériquains, Comparées Aux Moeurs Des Premiers Temps, 1724. Engraving. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Image in the public domain. Image source:

Indeed, the passage Le Barbier referenced was not original to Raynal. Like other parts of the Histoire des deux Indes, it was appropriated from the Jesuit priest Joseph-François Lafitau’s comparative theological treatise, Mœurs des sauvages américains compares au mœurs des premiers temps (1724).[20] As in the review above, Lafitau’s observations emerged from very specific geographical and historical coordinates and were supposedly compiled while the author was stationed in the Jesuit mission of Kahnawake (later Saint Francis Xavier at Fort St. Louis) from 1712 to 1717. There, Lafitau was immersed in a Catholic Iroquois community that was founded in 1642 by French settlers who worked to convert Indigenous locals.[21] Both Lafitau’s text and its plates demonstrate that there had been a more specific understanding of Indigenous Canadian political structures in eighteenth-century France. For example, a comparative image from Lafitau is intended to represent “Savage Figures from ‘Iroquois’ and ‘Huron’ nations” (Fig. 4). The two figures on the upper registers are described as being dressed à la moderne, and the bottom two as à l’antique.[22] By designating the figures this way, the plate plays upon Enlightenment tropes in which racial difference was articulated in relation to the contrast between modernity and antiquity, and which in turn acknowledge a history of Indigenous Canadians in parallel to eighteenth-century discourses on the development of European civilizations.

Moreover, Lafitau’s engraving demonstrates a basic contemporary awareness of differences between the “Iroquois” and the “Huron.” Other eighteenth-century works similarly distinguished between Indigenous polities: Jean Pestre’s Encyclopédie entry on “Canadiens,” for example, is entirely dedicated to Baron de Lahontan’s work on Hurons (Huron-Wendat First Nation) in Nouveaux voyages dans l’Amérique septentrionale (1703), and additional French sources likewise recognized and commented on cultural differences between Huron (Wyandot/Huron-Wendat Nation) and Haudenosaunee nations.[23] The nomenclature is further complicated by the fact that the Hurons were Iroquoian-speaking people who were ultimately defeated and driven out by the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy during the Beaver Wars.[24] The plural term “Canadiens,” then, offered a more generalized grouping of the population of Nouvelle France. Complicating matters even further, in 1781, we cannot assume that the term was synonymous with Indigenous Canadians. It was retroactively adopted by habitants after the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) so that French colonialists could distinguish themselves from the British.[25]

Depicting Canadiens

How, then, might we read the term Canadiens dialogically between the Salon livret and Le Barbier’s painting? And how did Le Barbier visually articulate his and Raynal’s understanding of Canadian Indigeneity vis-à-vis broader trends in French academic art in this period, if at all? Here, a close formal analysis unveils some of its underlying assumptions about and misunderstandings of race and Indigeneity.

Le Barbier’s depiction of the male figure combines venerated classical traditions with the new concept of the “noble savage.” Rousseau is often credited with popularizing this stereotype, which was deeply rooted in a Eurocentric conception of North American Indigeneity as a contemporary manifestation of the Golden Age. The “noble savage” was—generally speaking—a racial trope in which people of color were thought to be protected from the evils wrought by “civil society,” and, by extension, were incapable of advancements in “civil society” themselves.[26] The costume as well as the prominent placement of the trees behind the man in Le Barbier’s canvas thus locates the “Canadian” closer to nature than culture, in alignment with the notion of the uncorrupted “noble savage.” Additional details such as his tattoos, earring, ball club, bow, and arrow further differentiate him from his female counterpart, locating him as closer to nature, and her closer to culture.

The tawny-skinned man is in fact an amalgam of antique sculpture (closest to the Dying Gaul) and the early modern iconography of Melancholia, which Diderot, drawing on earlier writings by Cesare Ripa and Ambroise Paré, identified as a man with “an austere face, wrinkled eyebrow, brown, tanned complexion.”[27] On the one hand, Le Barbier seems to have racialized this idea of “brown, tanned complexion” in his canvas.  On the other hand, the painting’s fusion of the antique with the emblematic aligns with the evolution of history painting in this period. As Susanna Caviglia has argued, in mid-eighteenth-century France the focus on life-drawing in the Académie incited formal changes in history paintings, leading artists to favor economized and compressed compositions depicting figures in profound internal absorption over compositions picturing figures interconnected through gestures and expressions.[28] Indeed, Le Barbier exhibited several académies at the Salon of 1781, and the painting may be considered a convenient way to historicize his facility of life-drawing exercises.

Fig. 5. Jean-Michel Moreau, frontispiece for “Book IX” in Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, Histoire des deux Indes, 1782. Engraving, 15.5 x 9.5 cm. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Image in the public domain. Image source:

One of the more uncommon formal aspects of Le Barbier’s canvas is that the man does not assume the generalizing continental imagery often assigned to allegorical representations of America—as seen in natural history frontispieces, or as embodied in Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s frescoes at the Würzburg Residenz (1752-1753). Nor does Le Barbier echo contemporary illustrations of Indigenous people in anthropological and travel texts, such as Claude-Charles Bacqueville de La Potherie’s Histoire de l’Amérique septentrionale (1722).[29] Le Barbier seems to depart, too, from the visualization of “Canadians” by Jean-Michel Moreau (also called Moreau le Jeune). The latter’s frontispiece to Book IX of the 1780 edition of Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes (Fig. 5) depicts a moment of charity when a native Canadian family helps shipwrecked French arrivals. Compared to the French sailors, Moreau’s “Canadians” are dressed in unassuming tunics, but, unlike Le Barbier’s composition, the frontispiece gives them a certain level of agency—they appear active and heroic compared to the Arcadian repose captured by Le Barbier. 

Fig. 6. Jean-Jacque Le Barbier, General Wolfe, 1781. Engraving. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Image in the public domain. Image source:

Instead, Le Barbier appears to have largely appropriated elements from Benjamin West’s depiction of the Mohawk warrior. Le Barbier not only owned a personal copy of William Woollet’s 1776 engraving after West’s Death of General Wolfe, but earlier in 1781 he had also engraved a portrait of General Wolfe paired with a version of Benjamin West’s Death of General Wolfe (1770) on an antique relief (Fig. 6).[30] Le Barbier’s restaging of West’s composition is significant in this context. As scholars have noted, West figured the “Iroquois warrior” as a romanticized vehicle of emotional affection.[31] West’s mourning warrior was likewise a synthesis of classical antiquity (in this case, the Belvedere Torso) and the topos of melancholia—paradigmatic citations that enabled West to supplant the sense of temporal distance central to history paintings with geographical distance.[32] Le Barbier’s engraving candidly acknowledges the impact of West’s canvas on his own work and doubly classicizes Death of General Wolfe by presenting it as an antique frieze, which elevates a modern event to the level of a canonical scene from antiquity. In this context, Le Barbier’s “Canadian” man capitalizes on an existing visual vocabulary of Indigeneity (and inherits all of its associated problems), instead of offering a new formulation based on anthropological plates and texts.

In formal terms, Le Barbier’s canvas stages a visual tension between its two protagonists by distinguishing them from one another through dress and composition (Fig. 1). In contrast to the male protagonist, the “Canadian” woman (as the Salon livret would have it) bears remarkably few attributes that would serve to differentiate her from a white European. She is classically draped in the guise of Madonna Lactans, and her skin is decidedly fairer than that of her male companion. She leans over the rustic tomb, which resembles an altar, and holds her breast over it. The streams of breast milk are only gesturally alluded to and are rendered only more explicit in Ingouf’s later engraving. Her red bracelet is the primary signifier of her otherness. The inclusion of a small beaver by the stream is the most explicit indication that she and the scene are set in Canada. Appearing in maps, natural history illustrations, and emblematic depictions, beavers already functioned as an established geographic marker for the North American territory. Raynal, in fact, devoted over fifteen pages to the animal in the Histoire des deux Indes as a synecdoche for the economic systems of Nouvelle France.[33]

The white drapery interposed between the man and the woman’s arms foreground their contrasting skin tones, acting as a kind of barrier or marker of difference that further obfuscates how the livret’s plural term Canadiens is supposed to be read in this painting. Were the figures meant to represent an ethnological reality insofar as they recognize cultural and tribal plurality within the region? Could viewers have seen the female figure as the white European wife of an Indigenous man? Historically, single French women contributed about 20.7 percent of the French migration to the Americas.[34] However, to a late eighteenth-century viewer based in Paris, instead of recognizing it as an interracial marriage, it is more probable that the woman served as an allegorical sign and a moral ideal (whose moral virtue was mapped onto and signaled by her lighter skin tone). The result effectively removes the painting from the realm of a proto-ethnographic representation of Indigenous Canadians to instead reaffirm it as a type of contemporary history painting.

Yet we should practice great care when analyzing painted differences in skin tone in this period. Anne Lafont has demonstrated how eighteenth-century artistic discourse was instrumental in shifting the understanding of skin tone into a moral discourse.[35] She argues that “the association on the one hand of the white race with rational progress, and on the other of the black race with its absence and privation…corresponded to a widely held conviction that intelligence was divided up among human beings according to a skin color line, a pigmentary demarcation, objective and obvious to the naked eye.”[36] Lafont cautions us against inadvertently replicating the hierarchical racist taxonomies of late eighteenth-century thought in considering Le Barbier’s portrayal of his male and female protagonists. Instead, we may read Le Barbier’s canvas against the grain of those hierarchies by attending closely to how it treats gradience in skin tone.

Fig. 7. François Boucher, Les forges de Vulcain ou Vulcain présentant à Vénus des armes pour Énée, 1757. Oil on canvas, 320 x 320 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Image in the public domain. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

When compared to the exaggerated opposition between the painted depiction of white European skin and Black African skin in French paintings, we must note that the tonal comparison between the woman and the man in Le Barbier’s canvas is no more distinct than, say, the variance in tone between Vulcan and Venus in a mythological painting by François Boucher (Fig. 7), or between the tritons and the nymphs in Antoine Coypel’s painting of the Rape of Europa (1727). By this somewhat controversial comparison, I am suggesting that in representing and establishing an ideal of Canadian Indigeneity, cultural and racial otherness was conveyed through a pictorial vocabulary rooted in gradation and resemblance rather than the emphasis on contrast and opposition that was part and parcel of French visualizations of Black bodies. Ultimately, by situating native “Canadian” proximity to a classicized and idealized model of European whiteness, Le Barbier’s canvas in turn propagated a fantasy of North American Indigeneity as a foil to the enslaved inhabitants of other French colonies. The stakes of this fantasy become more readily apparent when we consider it alongside developments in the theatrical arts.

Performing Nouvelle France

The late eighteenth century witnessed the proliferation of plays and ballets about Nouvelle France promoted by retroactive nostalgia occasioned by the colony’s loss to Britain. These productions not only promoted awareness and remembrance but also rewrote the pastoral conception of North American Indigeneity by contrasting it to contemporaneous anxieties against the enslaved populations of France’s Caribbean colonies. Some of the performances that engaged with Nouvelle France from this moment include Philippe Poisson’s Le Mariage fait par lettre de change (1778/1787), Jean-Antoine Bourlin’s Le Français en Huronie, (1767/1780), Edme-Louis Billardon de Sauvigny’s Hirza, ou Les Illinois (1767/1780), and Claude-Louis-Michel de Sacy’s Opuscule dramatiques (1778). Baron de Lahontan’s Dialogues de Monsieur le baron de Lahontan et d’un sauvage dans l’Amérique (1704)—a supplement to his Nouveaux voyages (1703) that took the form of a fictional philosophical dialogue between Lahontan and the Huron Chief Adario—inspired two different works: Les Sauvages (1773), which was a concluding entrée to Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (1735), and Delisle de la Drevetière’s Arlequin sauvage (1722/1778).[37]

Fig. 8. Louis-René Boquet, Femme Sauvage et un Sauvage, costumes for Les Indes Galantes, 18th century. Pen and watercolor on paper, 25 x 32 cm. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Image in the public domain. Image source:

Costumes that accounted for these geographic shifts were instrumental in staging idealized representations of Indigeneity. For example, Adario’s outfit for Les Sauvages was described in the eighteenth-century costume inventory for court spectacles as featuring “body sleeves and breeches of burnt flesh taffeta.”[38] This very description of “burnt flesh” distinguishes the Huron chief’s skin tone from that of the other characters and in turn, highlights his racial difference. While there is no surviving drawing for this costume, there is a drawing by the artist Louis-René Boquet of the outfits for the Indigenous North Americans in Rameau’s Les Sauvages (Fig. 8). They prominently feature leafy embellishments, echoing the Encyclopédie’s definition of “Sauvage” as related to the Italian “Salvagio,” which was associated with woods and forests—a form of ornament rooted in the very paradigm of the “noble savage” outlined earlier.[39] In Boquet’s drawing, the male dancer is given additional features that set him apart from a white European—including his one-shoulder tunic, unconventional beard, and oversized ball club—characteristics that indicate how Indigenous exoticism was visually encoded for contemporary theater-goers.

These productions took divergent approaches to racial difference as a plot point to reinforce a type of racial ordering. This idea is powerfully articulated in Maximilien Gardel’s ballet La Fête de Mirza (1781), a sequel to his successful Mirza (1779). The earlier version had been set in the French Caribbean, and its plot, which featured Black assassins as antagonists, mirrored contemporary cultural anxieties about uprisings led by enslaved people in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), particularly following Tacky’s War (a rebellion by enslaved Akans in Jamaica in 1760-1761), as well as reactions against proto-abolitionist sentiments such as those endorsed in Histoire des deux Indes.[40] Premiering the same year Le Barbier’s painting was shown at the Salon, the revised Mirza, by contrast, was set in Fort Frontenac, a French military base on the shores of Lake Ontario (present-day Kingston, ON) and the site of a momentous battle during the Seven Years’ War. Gardel’s geographical shift from Haiti to Nouvelle France was reflected in the plot: instead of the fear and antagonism that underlay the first ballet, the sequel set in Ontario highlighted compassionate exchanges between an Indigenous Canadian woman and a white French colonial woman.[41] An affective shift from belligerence to benevolence in these different colonial settings served to reinforce cultural apprehension toward pronounced racial difference, a logic likewise operative in Le Barbier’s attenuated treatment of racial otherness in his portrayal of Canadians.

The evolution from Mirza (1779) to La Fête de Mirza (1781) unfolded at the same time that the history of French rule in Nouvelle France was being rewritten to emphasize affinity over difference. Raynal’s text was amended in 1780-1781, with the section on British and French occupation of North America revised in response to the American Revolution.[42] This shift repositioned the nexus of subjugation and violence among the French, British, and Indigenous Canadians. Raynal, for example, expressed French interactions with natives as enlightened collaborations, while referring to the English as “sauvages Européens.”[43] In fact, one may argue that nostalgia for Raynal’s text at the moment of its ban catalyzed overall nostalgia for his subject matter, thus spotlighting this particular episode in French history and inciting collective longing for Nouvelle France. In 1781, Raynal even founded a concours at the Académie of Lyon with the revealing title “Was the discovery of America useful or harmful to mankind? If it hasn’t resulted in goodness, what are the means of preserving and increasing them? If it has produced evils, what are the means of remedying them?”[44] In this context, the shift in setting of Gardel’s ballet from Haiti to Ontario reflected a lopsided imperialist dynamic among hexagonal France, Nouvelle France, and France’s Caribbean colonies. What was at stake in this shift was the question of where French conceptions of arcadia, progress, and pastoral nostalgia could be projected—a question that was inherently rooted in contemporary discourses on race.

My analysis of Le Barbier’s painting has thus far unfolded against the backdrop of eighteenth-century pseudo-scientific theories of race—ideas that promoted a Eurocentric fiction of Canadian Indigeneity that in turn perpetuated racist discourses by enforcing a racial hierarchy founded on false moral correlations. If representations of Black bodies sought falsely to underline their irreconcilable differences from white bodies, philosophical and historical accounts of Indigenous Canadians largely deployed classical and pastoral nostalgia to construct difference. Certainly, the reception of Le Barbier’s Canadiens is vastly different than the contemporary reception of, say, Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait of Madeleine (1800) only two decades later (well within Le Barbier’s own lifetime and career). Benoist’s painting provoked a particularly negative critical reaction with public condemnation of her nakedness as a “black stain,” a racist aesthetic bias that was closely linked with the desire to reinstitute slavery.[45] While it falls outside of the scope of this article to fully explore the politics of race in Benoist’s painting, and while the two are vastly different artworks, the contrast is revealing: Benoist’s portrayal of Blackness was regarded as artistically transgressive, while there was hardly any critical reaction to Le Barbier’s Canadian and His Wife. During this same period, theatrical performances about Nouvelle France were treating Indigeneity as a form of racial difference that was divested from the threats associated with Blackness in the French Caribbean.

By contrast, Le Barbier’s layering of multiple classical references in the portrayal of his protagonists located Indigeneity within the aesthetic conventions of French visual culture, building upon a rhetoric that highlighted similarities between Canadians and French in contrast to perceived unbridgeable differences between white French and enslaved Black bodies. Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, whose observance of the customs, language, and religion of the Haudenosaunee were published in the Journal étranger in Paris in 1762, explicitly suggested that “we find in the mores of the Savages the traces of the ancient customs of the Greeks, principally I still find in their warlike manners and customs that of the heroes of the Iliad and the Odyssey.”[46] Bougainville’s comments echo Lafitau’s earlier observations that sought to locate Indigenous Canadians within a lineage of early classical civilizations, and both authors imply the possibility of a shared racial heritage and the faint potential for a cultural equivalence between the inhabitants of France and Nouvelle France—a suggestion that set the groundwork for the projection of nostalgia onto Nouvelle France and perhaps even a fantasy of re-possession. This was not a logic apparent in contemporaneous discussions of Blackness.[47]

Skin color was once more embroiled in these debates. The habitant Pierre Boucher was one of the earliest to claim from Nouvelle France that Indigenous newborns were “as white” as French infants, writing, “They are swarthy: but new-born children are as white as French ones, that swarthy color only coming to them as they grow up.”[48] The perspective that melanated skin was acquired rather than innate was echoed by Pierre-François Xavier Charlevoix in his Histoire de la Nouvelle France (1744) and later in the Encyclopédie. These French writers suggested that darker skin in native North Americans was the result of ointment, summer sun, and heavy smoke in native dwellings.[49] This pseudo-scientific theory stressed variations in skin tone (up to a certain point) based on climate and inner bodily humors, a view that continued to be propagated by eighteenth-century naturalists and philosophers such as Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, Carl von Linné, Immanuel Kant, and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach as well as writers on Canada such as Bougainville, Lafitau, and Marc Lescarbot.[50]

Yet this viewpoint seems to promote a kind of cultural kinship that existed between Nouvelle France and France, compared to racist theories that justified slavery unfolding in the Caribbean colonies. Life was far from a bucolic paradise for many Indigenous Canadians, as they were direct and indirect victims of France’s colonization of Nouvelle France. For example, half of all French colonists that owned a home in Montreal’s commercial districts in 1725 also owned an Indigenous enslaved person.[51] Brett Rushforth has stressed that while enslavement of native North Americans was forbidden in Louisiana and the Caribbean colonies, enslavement of native Canadians was not only allowed but persisted in Nouvelle France, initially because French colonists saw the exchange of captives as a mode of diplomacy between tribes.[52] 

The invocation of Canadian benevolence and the utopian fantasy of the site promoted through Le Barbier’s canvas as well as through texts and performances about “Canada” staged Nouvelle France as a classical paradise. It was a fantastical and idyllic foil to contemporary Parisian mores that concealed its status as a geographic reality filled with cultural and ethnographic diversity and human suffering caused by the violence of the French empire.[53] Accounts of Indigenous Canadians living in a kind of classical Arcadia were reinforced by Rousseau’s famous injunction for his French readers to “return to nature” and disavow the corrupting powers of modern civilization. This projection of Canada as a real-life Arcadia is suggested by the fact that Le Barbier repeated the same background for his drawing of The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve (1782).[54] The view that the topography of Canada was a pristine specimen of divine design was already a long-standing eighteenth-century perspective, a prime example of which is Sebastien Le Clerc’s Elijah Carried up to Heaven in a Chariot of Fire (1705), in which the Niagara Falls substitutes for the banks of the river Jordan.[55] The overall effect is the canvas’s participation in a widespread collective erasure of the very real violence to which Indigenous Canadians and their lands were subjected, often by the French—an imagined ideal facilitated by its conscious quotation of the contemporary fetishization of maternal sacrifice, and one that I outline in the final section of my article.

Latitudes of Tenderness

What did Le Barbier’s portrayal of Indigeneity ultimately say to its French viewers? A model of motherhood characterized by emotional devotion and physical self-sacrifice was certainly essential to its narrative—characteristics amplified by the traits associated with the “noble savage.” The second half of the eighteenth century was broadly dominated by the contemporary vogue for the Rousseaunian vision of motherhood, which was primarily propagated through popular paintings and prints that depicted breastfeeding.[56] These images actively countered the common practice of wet nursing and promoted Rousseau’s proposal that breastfeeding was a child’s first education and consequently the moral foundation of society at large—one echoed in the Encyclopédie’s entry for “Mother,” which stated that “the first duty of a mother is to nurse her children.”[57] In this, Le Barbier’s choice to paint this particular excerpt from Raynal seems to capitalize on multiple cultural preoccupations of the period.

Fig. 9. Jean-Michel Moreau, La maladie de las Casas in Jean-François Marmontel, Les Incas, ou La Destruction de l’Empire de Pérou, 2 (Paris: Lacombe, 1777).  Engraving. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Image in the public domain. Image source:

Le Barbier’s recourse to Indigeneity in the context of motherhood and breastfeeding is echoed in contemporary cultural productions. The same passage derived from Lafitau and popularized by Raynal was in fact co-opted in Jean-François Marmontel’s quasi-fictional Incas, ou la destruction de l’empire du Pérou (1777). This scene was illustrated by Moreau Le Jeune and redrawn by Le Barbier in the early nineteenth century (Fig. 9).[58] It depicts an episode in which the gravely ill Spanish missionary Bartolomé de las Casas, the Bishop of Chiapas, is saved by the breastmilk of the wife of the cacique Henri—the same mother’s milk with which she was covering her recently deceased child’s grave.[59] This anecdote likely had widespread cultural purchase not only because it made explicit the moral duty to breastfeed, but also because it combined the practice with allusions to Caritas Romana (Roman Charity). Based on a tale originally told by the first-century Roman historian Valerius Maximus, this classical trope was echoed by Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia (VII, 36) in which Pero saves her father, Cimon, from his sentence to die by starvation by offering him her breastmilk.[60] Caritas Romana remained an important academic subject, and artists such as Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée and Jean Jacques Bachelier exhibited their versions in the Salon to various critical reception (Figs. 10 and 11).[61]

Fig. 10. Louis-Jean François Lagrenée, La Charité romaine, 1765. Oil on canvas, 62 x 73 cm. Musée des Augustines, Toulouse. Image in the public domain. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

To a certain extent, there are evident visual correlations between Lagrenée’s Caritas Romana from the Salon of 1765 and Le Barbier’s canvas. Bachelier’s Caritas Romana, also exhibited at the Salon of 1765, was unexpectedly racialized by Diderot. He remarked that Pero had “the bizarre physiognomy of the child of a Mexican woman who slept with a European man, where the characteristic features of the two nations are blurred.”[62] Diderot’s comment offers a negative appraisal of Bachelier’s artistic abilities on the basis that he has portrayed a child of mixed-race parentage, reflecting ascendant fears about miscegenation more broadly.

Fig. 11. Jean-Jacques Bachelier, La Charité romaine, 1765. Oil on canvas, 98 x 131 cm. École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Image in the public domain. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Scholars have suggested that Diderot’s prejudiced critique of Pero responded to Bachelier’s co-opting of Caritas Romana as a means to produce history paintings.[63] However, the subtle implication of racial differences in Le Barbier’s canvas compared to Bachelier’s had pressing and contemporary political stakes at this moment: on April 5, 1778, an administrative act banned marriage between white French people with Black and all other people of color.[64] The lack of outrage concerning Le Barbier’s painting compared to Diderot’s racialized critique of Bachelier’s Caritas Romana reinforces the suggestion that the painting was likely not read as portraying a marriage of two different races from Nouvelle France, and that by extension French conceptions of racial difference in relation to Canadian Indigeneity stood in marked contrast to the inhabitants of other colonial territories. Ultimately, Le Barbier’s manifold indexing of racial affinity in his construction of Indigenous Canadians indulges collective mourning over the French loss of Nouvelle France to the “savage” British forces at a moment when North American boundaries were being redrawn: from rearrangements in Raynal’s text to the ongoing American Revolutionary War. This retroactive nostalgia leans on visual, textual, and performative rhetoric of a racial hierarchy, one that serves the French historical record instead of truthfully marking the sufferings of Indigenous Canadians.

What a painting such as Le Barbier’s Canadians cannot reconstruct or attempt to explain is Indigenous self-conception in eighteenth-century France (to say nothing of eighteenth-century Canada). Western art historical research methods, however well meaning, likewise fail us here. As the Indigenous scholar, Linda Tuhiwai Smith reminds us, “from the vantage point of the colonized…the term ‘research’ is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.”[65] What such artworks can, however, illuminate is a French conception of Indigeneity as it was visualized and modified as France’s Atlantic Empire was being redrawn. By taking Raynal’s account of Indigenous Canadians as a subject, Le Barbier capitalized on influential ideas about geographic and racial difference, popular outrage over the ban of Raynal’s text, and the fetishization of Indigenous motherhood. The resulting painting cataloged both a contemporary interest in new prescriptions for parenthood and a thirst for new historical subjects. Close attention to the painting and its broader discursive context reveals how the visual and theatrical arts contributed to the creation of a racial hierarchy in which Canadian Indigeneity was by turns valorized, demeaned, and erased—each in the service of reaffirming the superiority of white European colonizers. Such an analysis sheds new light on the literal and discursive frameworks within which racial construction and colonial power relations unfolded—from the Salon to the stage.

J. Cabelle Ahn is a PhD candidate in the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University specializing in eighteenth-century French art

[1] This article would not have been possible without the intellectual generosity and the editorship of Stephanie O’Rourke and Susannah Blair. Thanks to the two peer reviewers and editors of Journal18 for their keen edits. This paper stems from my MA thesis at Harvard, and I would like to extend my thanks to Ewa Lajer-Burcharth and Felipe Pereda for their advice on the early iteration of this project. The ideas for this article were particularly enriched by the panel “Empire and the Antique in Art and Design,” organized by Jocelyn Anderson and Holly Shaffer at the 2017 ASECS annual meeting. Finally, I’m deeply indebted to Yoann Groslambert at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, and to Meredith Martin and Tim Schneider for insightful comments and critical edits during the development of this text. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from French are my own.
“De quelque pays que la morale nous vienne, elle est toujours la bienvenue; mais faut-il aller chez les Sauvages, chercher des leçons de tendresse pour les pères & les mères?” Anonymous, Galimatias: anti-critique des tableaux du Salon ou la cause des meilleurs peintres et sculpteurs, plaidée par un avocat (Neufchâtel, 1781), Collection Deloynes, Tome XII, no. 261, 217.

[2] Bernadette Fort and Louis Petit de Bachaumont, Les Salons des “Mémoires secrets” 1767-1787 (Paris: Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-arts, 1999), 220. For more on the new staircase, see Udolpho van de Sandt, Histoire des expositions de l’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (1663-1791): solennités, fêtes, cérémonies, concours et salons (Paris: DL, 2018), 178-179.

[3] #201-208 in Explication des peintures, sculptures et autres ouvrages de Messieurs de l’Académie royale, dont l’exposition a été ordonnée suivant l’intention de Sa Majesté… dans le grand sallon du Louvre (Paris: Rue S. Jacques, 1781), 36-38.

[4] For the impact of Le Barbier’s composition during the Revolutionary period, see Margaret Denton Smith, “Lebarbier’s Un Canadien et sa femme pleurant sur le tombeau de leur enfant: An Emblem of Respect for the Dead in the Aftermath of the French Revolution,” Source (1990): 19-23.

[5] See, for instance, Colin B. Bailey, Philip Conisbee, and Thomas W. Gaehtgens, eds., The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting (New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2003), 39; Else Marie Bukdahl, Diderot, Critique d’art (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde et Bagger, 1980), 121; Antoinette Ehrard and Jean Ehrard, Diderot et Greuze: Actes du Colloque de Clermont-Ferrand, 16 Novembre 1984 (Clermont-Ferrand: Adosa, 1986), 64; and Emma Barker, Greuze and the Painting of Sentiment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 183.

[6] For a recent example, see Annick Notter, Camille Faucourt, Agathe Cabau, and Peggy Davis, eds., Le scalp et le calumet: Imaginer et représenter l’Indien en Occident du XVIe siècle à nos jours (Paris: Somogy éditions d’art, 2017). 

[7] Guy Laflèche, Bibliographie littéraire de la Nouvelle-France. Les cahiers universitaires du Singulier 2 (Laval: Éditions du Singulier, 2000).

[8] For recent scholarship on constructions of Canadian Indigeneity, see Sophie White, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); Cecilia Morgan, Travellers through Empire: Indigenous Voyages from Early Canada (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017).

[9] Guillaume Ansart, “Variations on Montesquieu: Raynal and Diderot’s ‘Histoire Des Deux Indes’ and the American Revolution,” Journal of the History of Ideas 70, 3 (2009): 400. See also Cecil Patrick Courtney and Jenny Mander, eds., Raynal’s ‘Histoire Des Deux Indes’: Colonialism, Networks and Global Exchange (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2015); Anatole Feugère, Bibliographie critique de l’abbé Raynal (Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1970); Anthony Strugnell, “Histoire des deux Indes et quelques débats du dix-huitième siècle,” SVEC 2003, 7 (2003): 115-245.

[10] “On voit quelquefois deux époux aller, après six mois, verser des larmes sur le tombeau d’un enfant, et la mère y faire couler du lait de ses mamelles.” Guillaume Thomas Raynal, Histoire Philosophique et Politique, des Établissements & du Commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, 10 vols. (Geneva: J.L. Pellet, 1780), 4:22-23.

[11] “Les canadiens aiment si fort leurs enfants, que l’on a vu quelquefois deux époux, six mois après la mort de leur enfant, aller pleurer sur son tombeau, et la mère y faire couler du lait de ses mamelles.” Explication des peintures, sculptures et autres ouvrages de Messieurs de l’Académie royale, dont l’exposition a été ordonnée suivant l’intention de Sa Majesté… dans le grand sallon du Louvre (Paris: rue S. Jacques, 1781), 37. See also Thierry Belleguic, “Présentation–La matière de l’art: Diderot et l’expérience esthétique dans les premiers ‘Salons’,” Diderot Studies 30 (Genève: Droz, 2007): 3; van de Sandt, Histoire des expositions, 194.

[12] Muriel Brot, “Diderot et Raynal: L’histoire au présent,” in Les philosophes et l’histoire au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Hermann, 2011), 311.

[13] #349 in Perrot and Pieri-Bénard, Catalogue des tableaux, dessins, livres et estampes provenant du cabinet et de la bibliothèque de feu M. Le Barbier membre de l’Institut, Par Pieri-Bénard (Paris, 1826), n.p., and Tables de Décès, appositions et levées de scellés, tutelles curatelles, notoriétés, ventes de meubles et déclarations de successions, Archives de Paris, AP: DQ9 976, f 50 v & 51 r, no. 16 (7 May 1826).

[14] Parlement de Paris, Arrest de la cour de Parlement, qui condamne un imprimé, en 10 vol. in-8°, ayant pour titre: Histoire philosophique & politique des etablissemens & du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, par Guillaume-Thomas Raynal (Paris: Chez P. G. Simon, 1781).

[15] “Il doit être place dans la bibliothèque hors de la vue et personne sans permission et sans nécessité ne peut le lire sans courir le risque d’en recevoir le scandaleux poison.” This quote comtes from a handwritten note on a copy of the 1780 edition of Histoire des deux Indes in the Seminary of Quebec. Cited from Claude Galarneau, La France devant l’opinion canadienne (1760-1815) (Québec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1970), 83; Gilles Bancarel, “Le Canada dans l’Histoire des deux Indes de l’abbé Raynal,” in Sophie Linon-Chipon, Raymonde Litalien, and Hélène Richard, eds., Les Représentations de la Nouvelle-France et de l’Amérique du Nord (Paris: Éd. du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2013), 71-72n12.

[16] Hervé Guénot has identified that following Raynal’s exile and the banning of the publication, there was an explosive reaction from the press, with the Histoire des deux Indes excerpted in various public journals and thus circulating more widely than before. Hervé Guénot, “La réception de l’Histoire des deux Indes dans la presse d’expression française,” in Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink and Manfred Tietz, eds., Lectures de Raynal: L’histoire des Deux Indes en Europe et en Amérique au XVIIIe Siècle, SVEC 286 (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation at the Taylor Institution, 1991), 68-71. See also Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 37-52.

[17] Full criticism is as follows: “sec et cru; bien de composition, dessin correct; la touche n’est pas grande la couleur n’est ni mauvaise ni bonne. Il n’y a point d’harmonie dans le tout.” Denis Diderot, Salons, 4 vols.(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 4:374. For more on Diderot and the Histoire des Deux Indes, see Michèle Duchet, Diderot et l’Histoire des deux Indes: ou, L’écriture fragmentaire (Paris: A.-G. Nizet, 1978).

[18] Ingouf’s engraving became an instant best-seller. See Kristel Smentek, “Sex, Sentiment, and Speculation: The Market for Genre Prints on the Eve of the French Revolution,” in Philip Conisbee, ed., French Genre Painting in the Eighteenth Century (Washington: National Gallery of Art), 229.

[19] “De quelque pays que la morale nous vienne, elle est toujours la bienvenue; mais faut-il aller chez les Sauvages, chercher des leçons de tendresse pour les pères & les mères?” Anonymous, Galimatias, 217.

[20] Joseph F. Lafitau, Mœurs des Sauvages Américains, Comparées aux Mœurs des Premiers Temps: Ouvrage Enrichi de Figures en Taille-Douce, 2 vols. (Paris: Saugrain, 1724), 2:431.

[21] The Kahnawaké were well known to the French, as it was home to the Mohawk saint, Catherine Tekakwitha, the first native American to be canonized in the church. Her biography was published in early eighteenth-century Paris by the Jesuit priests Pierre Cholenec and Claude Chauchetière, and was reproduced in Pierre-François-Xavier Charlevoix’s multivolume Histoire de la Nouvelle France (1744). Cholenec attached the subtitle, “The First Iroquois Virgin,” to his 1696 manuscript on the Mohawk Saint. See Ursula Gonthier, “The ‘Supplément au Journal de Bougainville’: Representations of Native Canadians in the Histoire des deux Indes,” in Courtney and Mander, Raynal’s ‘Histoire des Deux Indes’, 187-97; Michèle Duchet, “Bougainville, Raynal, Diderot et les sauvages du Canada, Une source ignorée de l’Histoire des deux Indes,” Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France (April 1963): 228-236.

[22] Lafitau, Mœurs Des Sauvages Américains, 3:24.

[23] Jean Pestre, “Canadiens, Philosophie des,” Jean le Rond d’Alembert and Denis Diderot, eds., Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 35 vols. (Paris: Briasson, 1765), 2:581–582. Also, Sankar Muthu has argued that French cultural discourses on Indigenous Americans were not based on accurate ethnography, but rather were “shorn of their distinctive cultural systems of meaning…to become an amorphous, undifferentiated whole.” See Sankar Muthu, Enlightenment Against Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 20-30.

[24] See also Dean R. Snow, “Iroquois-Huron Warfare,” in Richard J. Chacon and Rubén G. Mendoza, eds., North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007), 149-159; William R. Nester, The French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014).

[25] Christophe Horguelin, “Le XVIIIe siècle des Canadiens: discours public et identité,” in Philippe Joutard and Thomas Wien, eds., Mémoires de Nouvelle-France. De France en Nouvelle-France (Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2005), 209.

[26] Rousseau’s discussion of the Noble Savage is traced back to his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality Among Men (completed 1754, published Amsterdam: March Michel Rey, 1755). Johnathan Israel has described Lahontan as the “foremost champion in the era between Spinoza and Rousseau of “natural man” as a tool of criticism of existing social and cultural realities.” See Johnathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 582; Terry Jay Ellingson, The Myth of the Noble Savage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (New York: Harper & Row, 1984).

[27] “Ils ont le visage austere, le sourcil froncé, le teint basané, brun.” This idea of “brown complexion” in Ripa’s definition was derived from Ambroise Paré’s formulation that the medical locus of melancholy lay in an imbalance of bodily fluids. Denis Diderot, “Melancholia,” in The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project, trans. Matthew Chozick (Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007) (accessed February 21, 2022). See also Kenneth Hayes, Milk and Melancholy (Toronto: Prefix Press, 2008), 184.

[28] An example of such a painting is Pierre Subleyras, Charon Ferrying Dead Souls across the Styx, c. 1735 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Susanna Caviglia, “Aux limites de l’Histoire. Le grand genre à l’épreuve des règles de l’art,” Romantisme 169, 3 (2015): 26; Caviglia, “Life Drawing and the Crisis of “Historia” in French Eighteenth-Century Painting,” Art History 39 (2016): 41-42.

[29] See Surekha Davies, Renaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human: New Worlds, Maps, and Monsters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016); and Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of the Four Continents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015). 

[30] He advertised this print together with a pendant version featuring the Marquis de Montcalm, the French counterpart to General Wolfe, which he advertised in the Journal Encyclopédique on August 15, 1781—less than a fortnight from the opening of the Salon of 1781. This, alongside his other offerings at the first Salon, may have been his response to Comte d’Angivillier’s impactful call for artworks that spotlighted French national history. In fact, Le Barbier received a commission from the Comte d’Angiviller in 1782 for a painting of Henry IV and Duke of Sully, which he exhibited in the Salon of 1783. See Francis H. Dowley, “D’Angiviller’s Grands Hommes and the Significant Moment,” The Art Bulletin 39 (1957): 259-277; For Angiviller’s letter to Le Barbier see Archives nationales de France, Correspondance avec les Bâtiments du Roi O/1/1916/1, doc. 83 (March 14, 1782), 387-88.

[31] Vivien Green Fryd, “Rereading the Indian in Benjamin West’s ‘Death of General Wolfe,’” American Art 9, 1 (1995): 79.

[32] Fryd, “Rereading the Indian,” 80-81.

[33] Raynal, Histoire des deux Indes, 104-117; Bancarel, “Le Canada dans l’Histoire des deux Indes de l’abbé Raynal,” 74-79.

[34] Yves Landry, “Les immigrants en Nouvelle-France: bilan historiographique et perspectives de recherché,” in Joutard and Wien, Mémoires de Nouvelle-France, 67; Allan Greer, The People of New France (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997/2017), 83.

[35] Anne Lafont, “How Skin Color Became a Racial Marker: Art Historical Perspectives on Race,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 51, 1 (2017): 89.

[36] Lafont, “How Skin Color Became a Racial Marker.” See also Angela Rosenthal, “‘Visceral Culture: Blushing and the Legibility of Whiteness in Eighteenth-Century British Portraiture,” Art History 27, 4 (September 2004): 563-592.

[37] Delisle de la Drevetière’s Arlequin Sauvage was performed over 170 times during the eighteenth century.Les Sauvages was shown in 1743, 1751, and 1761 alongside Les Incas de Pérou in 1765 in Versailles and 1773 in Paris. Lahontan’s Dialogues was published in 1704 in the third and final volume accounting his exploration and military service in Quebec from 1683-1693. Joellen A. Meglin, “‘Sauvages, Sex Roles, and Semiotics’: Representations of Native Americans in the French Ballet, 1736-1837, Part One: The Eighteenth Century,” Dance Chronicle 23, 2 (2000): 97-115; Kim Solga, “The Savage Ambivalence of Delisle De La Drevetière,” The Eighteenth Century 43, 3 (2002): 198-200. Sébastien Côté has also published extensively on Nouvelle France in French theatre; see “Réception des relations de voyage en Nouvelle-France dans quelques histoires littéraires du Québec et du Canada,” @nalyses 9, 1 (Winter 2014): 269-295.

[38] “Corps manches et culottes de taffetas chair brulée.” Helene LeClerc, “Les Indes galantes (1735-1952): Les sources de l’opera-ballet; l’exotisme orientalisant; les conditions materielles du spectacle; fortune des Indes galantes,” Revue d’histoire du theatre Paris 5, 4 (1953): 283-284; Meglin, “‘Sauvages, Sex Roles, and Semiotics’,” 90.

[39] Unidentified author, “Sauvages,” Encyclopédie, 14:729.

[40] For a compilation of French theater in Saint-Domingue see the online database Theatre in Saint-Domingue, 1764-1791.

[41] Meglin, “‘Sauvages, Sex Roles, and Semiotics’,” 121-127.

[42] Additionally, the sections on the American Revolution were published separately, and Books Fifteen through Eighteen on British and French occupation of North America were revised in response to the American Revolution.

[43] Raynal, Histoire des deux Indes, 6:263; Wolloch, History and Nature in the Enlightenment, 87-88; Gonthier, “The ‘Supplément au journal de Bougainville’,” 195.

[44] “La découverte de l’Amérique a-t-elle été utile ou nuisible au genre humain? S’il n’est résulté des biens, quelles sont les moyens de les conserver et de les accroître? Si Elle a produit des maux quels sont les moyens d’y remédier?” See Joseph Mandrillon, Recherches philosophiques sur la découverte de l’Amerique, ou, Discours sur cette question proposée par l’Academie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres & Arts de Lyon (Amsterdam: E. Van Harrevelt. 1784); Henry Mechoulan, La découverte de l’Amérique a-t-elle été utile ou nuisible au genre humain: reflexions sur le concours de Lyon, 1783-1789 (Salamanca: [s.n.], 1988).

[45] Mechthild Fend, “Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait d’une Négresse and the visibility of skin colour,” in Caroline Rosenthal and Dirk Vanderbeke, eds., Probing the Skin: Cultural Representations of Our Contact Zone (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), 192-210; Fend, Fleshing Out Surfaces: Skin in French Art and Medicine, 1650-1850 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017); Grigsby, Extremities, 42-60.

[46] “On trouve dans les mœurs des Sauvages des traces des anciens usage des Grecs, principalement je crois toujours voir dans leur mœurs et coutumes guerrières celle des héros de l’Iliade et de l’Odyssée.” Gonthier, “The ‘Supplément au journal de Bougainville’,” 25; Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, Ecrits sur le Canada: mémoires, journal, lettres (Sillery, Québec: Septentrion, 2003), 93; Duchet, “Bougainville, Raynal, Diderot et les sauvages du Canada,” 229-233.

[47] Although absent in Raynal’s account, Lafitau compared this funerary lactation to the Roman practice of letting tears flow over the ashes of family and friends through openings in burial urns. See Lafitau, Mœurs des Sauvages Américains, 2:431.

[48] “Ils sont bazanez, les enfans qui naissent sont blancs comme des François, & cette couleur bazanée ne leur vient qu’avec l’aage.” Pierre Boucher, Histoire véritable et naturelle des mœurs et productions du pays de la Nouvelle-France vulgairement dite le Canada (Boucherville: Société Historique de Boucherville, 1664), 92. Translation from Gordon M. Sayre, Les Sauvages américains: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 157.

[49] See David Allen Harvey, The French Enlightenment and Its Others: The Mandarin, the Savage, and the Invention of the Human Sciences (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 135-143; Jean Pestre, “Canadiens, Philosophie des,” 581–582.

[50] For more see Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 253-262.

[51] Brett Rushforth, “‘A Little Flesh We Offer You’: The Origins of Indian Slavery in New France,” The William and Mary Quarterly 60, 4 (2003): 777.

[52] Rushforth, “‘A Little Flesh We Offer You’,” 778-779.

[53] For more on the history of Canada in the French Atlantic Empire, see Kenneth Banks, Chasing Empire Across the Sea (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003); Bernard Andrès and Nancy Desjardins, Utopies en Canada, 1545-1845 (Montréal: Département d’études littéraires, UQAM, 2001); Philip P. Boucher, Les Nouvelles-Frances: la France en Amérique; 1500 – 1815 (Sillery: Septentrion, 2004).

[54] See D. 562 in Michel Jacq-Hergoualc’h, Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier l’Aîné: 1738-1826, 2 vols. (Tokyo: Texnai, 2014), 2:186.

[55] Victoria Dickenson, Drawn from Life: Science and Art in the Portrayal of the New World (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), 137; Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North-America undertaken by Order of the French King 2 vols. (London: Printed for R. and J. Dodsley, 1761), 1:245.

[56] See fashion plates or paintings on the theme of nursing mothers in the Salon by artists such as Greuze, Nicolas-René Jollain, Jean-Jacques Lagrenée le Jeune, and Étienne Aubry.

[57] “Le premier devoir d’une mère est d’allaiter ses enfants.” Antoine-Gaspard Boucher d’Argis, entry on “Mère” in the Encyclopédie, 10:380. Le Barbier met Rousseau while traveling through Switzerland in 1776 and illustrated the Oeuvres de Rousseau. Elisabeth Badinter, Mother Love: Myth and Reality: Motherhood in Modern History (New York: Macmillan, 1981), xix; George D. Sussman, Selling Mother’s Milk: The Wet Nursing Business in France, 1715–1914 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 22.

[58]  For Le Barbier’s drawing of Marmontel’s Les Incas (1810), see Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, inv. No. 973.8 6.

[59] See Peggy Davis, “Les Incas de Marmontel comme exemple des pratiques matérielles, sociales et interdisciplinaires de l’illustration,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 23, 4 (Summer 2011): 605-636; Jean-François Marmontel, Les Incas, ou, La destruction de l’empire du Pérou (Frankfurt and Leipzig: Broenner, 1777; Lima: Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos, 1991), 165.

[60] Pliny, John Bostock, and Henry T Riley, eds., The Natural History of Pliny, 6 vols. (London: H.G. Bohn, 1857), VI, Book 35, 263-264.

[61] Lagrenée presented Le Barbier to the Académie on 29 July 1780. Anatole de Montaiglon, ed., Procès-verbaux de l’Académie Royale de Peinture et de sculpture, 1648-1792, 10 vols.(Paris: J. Baur, 1883), 9:29. For on the impact of Caritas Romana on the French Académie, see: Jacqueline Lichtenstein and Christian Michel, eds., Conférences de l’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (Paris: École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, 2006), 166-167; Alexandra Woolley, “Nicolas Poussin’s Allegories of Charity in the Plague at Ashdod and The Gathering of the Manna and their Influence on Late Seventeenth-century French art,” in Jutta G. Sperling, ed., Medieval and Renaissance Lactations: Images, Rhetorics, Practices (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013), 165-186. 

[62] “La physionomie bizarre de l’enfant d’une Mexicaine qui a couché avec un Européen et ou les traits caractéristiques des deux nations sont brouillés.” Denis Diderot, “Salon de 1765,” in Œuvres de Denis Diderot, 6 vols. (Paris: Chez A. Belin, 1818), 4:49.

[63] Bernadette L. Fort, “The Sketch as Transgression: Greuze’s Roman Charity,” in The Ruin and the Sketch in The Eighteenth Century, ed. Peter Wagner (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Vertrag Trier, 2008), 153-178; Mark Ledbury, Sedaine, Greuze and the Boundaries of Genre (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2000), 36.

[64] Arrest du Conseil d’état du Roi concernant les mariages des noirs, mulâtres, ou autres gens de couleur, du 5 avril 1778 (Lille: NJB Peterinck-Cramé, 1778); François Vergès, “The Slave at the Louvre: An Invisible Humanity,” NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art 38-39 (November 2016): 13. All restrictions concerning interracial marriages were lifted on September 20, 1792.

[65] Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London: Zed Books, 1998), 1.

Cite this article as: J. Cabelle Ahn, “Latitudes of Tenderness: Imagining Nouvelle France in the Ancien Régime”, Journal18, Issue 13 Race (Spring 2022),

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