The Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University and the Musée d’Orsay partner to present an exhibition entitled Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today in New York and Le Modèle noir, de Géricault à Matisse in Paris.

This exhibition explores the changing modes of representation of the black figure as central to the development of modern art. The models' interactions with and influences on painters, sculptors and photographers are highlighted through archival photographs, correspondence and films. The artists featured in the exhibition depicted black subjects in a manner counter to typical representations of the period. The works included highlight the little-known, multiracial aspect of each artist’s milieu.

In New York, the presentation focuses specifically on the black female figure, beginning with Edouard Manet’s 1860s portrayals of Laure, the model who posed as the maid in Olympia. In Paris, a broader and expanded treatment of the black figure begins with portaits by Marie-Guillemine Benoist and Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault at the start of the 19th century.

In both New York and Paris, the exhibition explores the work of Manet’s Impressionist-era cohort, including Frédéric Bazille, Edgar Degas and the photographer Nadar; sculptors including Charles Henri Joseph Cordier and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux; paintings, drawings and prints of Henri Matisse (before and after his 1930s Harlem visits); the portraiture of diverse artists of the Harlem Renaissance, including Charles Alston and William H. Johnson; and the legacy of these depictions for successive generations of postwar modern and contemporary artists, from Romare Bearden through to the current moment.

By taking a multidisciplinary approach that focuses on the connection between the history of art and the history of ideas, the exhibition will study aesthetic, political, social and racial issues as well as the realm of the imagination—all of which is revealed in the representation of black figures in visual arts from the French and American abolition eras to the present day.

Lenders to the Exhibition

The Baltimore Museum of Art
Jane Beckett and Deborah Cherry Collection
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Centre national des arts plastique
Centre Pompidou / Musée national d’art moderne–Centre de création industrielle
Elizabeth Colomba
Renée Cox
Dallas Museum of Art
Dr. Fritz and Mrs. Rita Daguillard
Des Moines Art Center
Detroit Institute of Arts
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Fisk University Galleries
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Fondation Dina Vierny–Musée Maillol
Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman Collection
Jean Pierre Schneider courtesy Galerie Berthet-Aittouarès
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Lorraine O’Grady courtesy Alexander Gray Associates
The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Foundation for the Arts
Ellen Gallagher courtesy Hauser & Wirth Gallery
Jiménez-Colón Collection
Library of Congress
The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation
Musée d’Orsay
Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac
Musée Fabre
Musée Matisse Le Cateau-Cambrésis
Musée Matisse, Nice
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Museum of Modern Art
Museum of the City of New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Morgan Library & Museum
National Gallery of Art
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
New York Public Library
Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille
The Phillips Collection
Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Szépmüvészeti Muzeum/Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
Gerard Valerius courtesy Nomad Gallery 

Jean Frédéric Bazille. Young Woman with Peonies (detail), 1870. National Gallery of Art

Past Exhibition

Exhibition Dates
October 24, 2018–February 10, 2019 at Wallach Art Gallery
March 26–July 14, 2019 at Musé d'Orsay
The Curators

The curator of the exhibition in New York is Denise Murrell, Ph.D., Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University.

The curators for the Paris exhibition are Cécile Debray, Director of the Musée de l’Orangerie, Stéphane Guégan, scientific advisor to the President of the Musées d’Orsay and Orangerie, Denise Murrell, Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, Isolde Pludermacher and Edouard Papet, curators at the Musée d’Orsay.

The exhibition is based on Denise Murrell’s 2013 dissertation for Columbia University’s department of art history and archaeology, as is the Posing Modernity catalog, co-published by Yale University Press. The exhibition has been developed through the generous support of the Ford Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art. It is organized by The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University in the City of New York, and the Etablissement public des musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, Paris.

For more information on Musée d'Orsay please visit:

Recorded Event

Curator's Talk: Posing Modernity

Denise Murrell, Ph.D., Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University.

See More


"-a historically significant and aesthetically illuminating show that centers on the black female form as she appears and reappears in the work, lives, and imaginations of a number of painters, photographers, and filmmakers."

Hilton Als, The New Yorker

"Ms. Murrell traces the legacy of Laure and how Manet's peers — from his acolyte Frédéric Bazille to Romare Bearden a century later to Mickalene Thomas today — have directly reimagined this black female figure."

Hilarie M. Sheets, The New York Times

"At every point, black models pose, or raise, the question of modernity: what is it, who makes it, who is it for?"

Roberta Smith, The New York Times


"Murrell effectively posits that Laure, Miss Lala, and other black figures of Western art history were also seen as harbingers of the modern world."

Tess Thackara, Artsy

"Many of the artists here bring to light much of what art history has ignored."

Nadja Sayej, The Guardian

"A sweeping re-examination of the history of modern art at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University."

Alison Stewart, WNYC

"Beginning with Olympia, the exhibition pinpoints a break from stereotypical, Orientalist representations of the black female figure in art history."

Naomi Rea, Artnet

"The show is singular in illuminating fully, and with an intellectual mindset perhaps only possible in a university museum, an aspect of Realist and Impressionist art that has been glossed over, while pulling its theme effectively and thrillingly into the present."

Jason Rosenfeld, The Brooklyn Rail

"Challenging and reframing the depiction of black women in art."

Bola Mosuro, BBC Newsday

"Most uplifting is the clear move away from earlier stereotypes of black women as servants and performers to a focus on their beauty, strength and indepedence."

The Curious Uptowner

"The imprint of art should include all forms of visual representations – and yes how the female black model is painted reveals how she may be treated in reality. To be seen on canvas at the dawn of modern art is to exist and perhaps to matter."

Long Nguyen, Flaunt


Next Exhibition
March 30, 2019 - April 14, 2019

2019 First-Year MFA Exhibition