Caricature booklet, 1850

Satirical caricature book by Cham of Emperor Faustin I's Empire of Haiti

Description

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This illustrated booklet presents various vignettes satirizing Emperor Faustin I, Empress Adélina, and the Empire of Haiti. The illustrations are loosely connected, some more so than others. As Cham was a popular caricaturist, this object serves as a reliable barometer of public attitudes and taste in mid-19th-century Paris.  Cham published other booklets in a similar format, satirizing the customs of other European nations as well as the United States. One such work was a veritable indictment of the displacement of Native Americans from their perspective. 

A transversal theme is the disparagement of Soulouque and his Empire, rendering it “unable to achieve the perfect imitation of the great Napoleon” as one caption states. Other themes derive from or compliment it. For example, financial woes are prominent in Cham’s rendition of Soulouque’s Empire, compounding penury with contempt. The insolvent Emperor is reduced to desperate beggary, cutting embarrassing corners, trading noble titles for cash, and mending his worn clothes, while the barefoot Empress wears a half-complete dress and the Royal Palace is furnished with second-hand wares bought from a street peddler. 

There is much racism in the caricatures. In one of the vignettes, the dark-hued milk of a Black wetnurse is mistaken for shoe polish. In another, Soulouque stains his black boots with the skin-toned paint being applied by the artist to his portrait. Others include monkeys standing for the Queen’s pages and a high-ranking Haitian ambassador being kicked out of a palace by a guard “with the honors due to his rank.” Also depicted are racist stereotypes and tropes, such as the Empress dressed as a black Mammie and the taxidermied dead Emperor displayed as an “ornament of a cabinet of...curiosities.” Soulouque and his circle engage in debauchery, stupidity, and witchcraft, and is — like all Haitians in the book — embarrassingly ignorant of high culture. 

Nonetheless, viewing this object exclusively through the lens of racism would yield a fragmented and circumscribed appreciation of its multidimensional significance. Derision is common to all caricatures by Cham, whose satirized subjects, regardless of race or nationality, are terribly portrayed. Additionally, Soulouque and his Empire, due to its similarities, served as a proxy for criticizing Emperor Napoleon III; while contempt for the former would elicit laughter, criticism of the latter might result in incarceration or worse. In the face of the regime’s stringent censorship, these vignettes make veiled references to political affairs in France, to be tacitly understood by its readers.

Access

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Medium & Techniques

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Engraved illustrations on paper; sewn pages

Book information

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  • Title: Soulouque and his Court by Cham
  • Original Title: Soulouque et sa cour, par Cham.
  • Language: French
  • Author: Cham (Amédée de Noé)
  • Published: 1850
  • Publisher: At the Paris office of the "Journal le Charivari"
  • Printer: Imprimerie Lange Lévy & Comp., Paris
  • Page count: 32
  • Dimensions: 24cm

People involved

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Provenance

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Acquired from MB Livres of Orléans, France