Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
The Massacre
Artistic voice: Francisco de Goya, ca. 1813, Madrid
Oil on canvas, 69.5 x 89.5 cm

»On 1 January, 1804, after thirteen years of revolution, Haiti proclaimed independence from France and became a free and sovereign black nation—the first and only one to have permanently overthrown slavery at that time, and the second, after the United States, to have achieved independence in the colonial Atlantic. On the night of 22 August, 1791, when the slaves rose in rebellion against their white masters, they took their destiny into their own hands and embarked on a historically unprecedented journey to freedom. In the face of widespread slave insurrection and foreign invasion, the French government formally abolished slavery on 4 February, 1794, opening the way for the rise to power of Toussaint Louverture, a former slave and now the colony’s most formidable revolutionary black leader. In 1801, he promulgated a constitution to create a self-governing black state and make himself governor for life. Napoleon Bonaparte’s project to restore slavery and the slave trade in 1802 led to a massive military expedition, precipitating a total war for independence. Although Toussaint had been captured and deported, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, second in command, continued the war to defeat and mercilessly expel the French in the name of liberty, racial equality, and nationhood. He became Haiti’s first independence ruler.«

Professor Carolyn Fick, Université Concordia, Montreal

In Haiti, France, England and Spain were in conflict with one another in changing alliances with royalists, plantation owners and the black population, which was calling for the human rights proclaimed as part of the French Revolution. In 1804, Haiti was independent. In the spring, the head of state and subsequent emperor of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, ordered the murder of the white population. At the Spanish royal court, Goya found himself at the centre of the Spanish war party and in enlightened circles. Beltracchi captures this historical world event in Goya’s artistic voice.