Dora Gordine

Guadaloupe Head


Not on display

Dora Gordine 1895–1991
Bronze on fabric and wooden base
Object: 360 × 230 × 230 mm
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983

Display caption

Gordine, an Estonian sculptor, made this work while studying in Paris. She modelled it from a woman she met by chance in the city. However, the artist did not depict her sitter as an individual. Instead, Gordine represented what she saw as the visual characteristics of a ‘race’. The Caribbean island of Guadaloupe was then a French colony, and later became part of France. This work is rooted in the colonial attitudes prevalent in Europe at the time.
The term ‘negress’, the female form of ‘negro’, was commonly used in the 1920s. It is now acknowledged as highly offensive. The term derives from the Latin for black. From the 18th century onwards it became associated with the now debunked pseudoscience of ‘race biology’. This discriminatory classification of people based on their skin colour has been used to justify racism.

Gallery label, June 2021

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Catalogue entry

T03746 Guadaloupe Head c.1925–7

Bronze 14 1/4 × 9 1/8 × 9 1/8 (360 × 230 × 230)
Inscribed ‘Dora Gordine 8/8’ on back of head and ‘VALSUANI CIRE PERDUE BRONZE’ on back of neck
Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1983
Prov: Mrs A.Q. Patullo (probably purchased at the Leicester Galleries in 1938); bequeathed by her to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1952 (Circ. 80–1952)
Exh: ? Salon des Tuileries, Paris (date unknown, unspecified cast);? An Exhibition of Sculpture by Dora Gordine, Leicester Galleries, October 1928 (7, repr., as ‘Guadaloupe Head (Negress’, unspecified cast); ? Exhibition of Recent Sculpture and Drawings by Dora Gordine, Leicester Galleries, November 1938 (24, under ‘Earlier Sculpture’, unspecified cast); ? Junge Künstler, Dora Gordine, Fritz Kronenberg, Paul Strecker, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Berlin, September–October 1929 (4, repr. as ‘Negerin’ unspecified cast); travelling exhibitions of Department of Circulation, Victoria and Albert Museum; British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, Whitechapel Art Gallery, September–November 1981 (79)
Lit: Arthur Symons, ‘Sculpture, Dora Gordine’, The Spectator, 4 November 1938

The artist (the Hon Mrs Richard Hare) has stated that this is the earliest of her four bronze heads of African and Oriental women that belong to the Tate Gallery. She made the sculpture while still a student at Paris University, and modelled it from the life from a girl whom she met by chance, and ‘struck by her dignity’, asked to sit for her.

The edition of eight casts was completed, and the artist recalled that all were sold to private collectors by 1938.

This information was given by the artist on 7 February 1985.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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