Category Archives: Arts and American Culture

Victorian Uncanny (310/485)

This is the image I wanted to show you in class on Wednesday, an 1896 painting by John William Waterhouse titled Hylas and the Nymphs. Properly speaking the feminine figures are naiads– spirits of fresh water– rather than Nereids, who belong to the sea.


While I was looking for this image I came across another, also painted by Waterhouse, titled A Naiad:


Recently the first of these paintings was the subject of some small controversy when the Manchester Art Gallery removed it from display. See

The Society Portrait (310/485)

Claud Walsingham Popple is probably based on John Singer Sargent rather than James MacNeil Whistler, as I said in class. Sargent was a successful “society painter” who first gained attention with the “scandalous” work Portrait of Madame X.


A prolific artist, Sargent prospered to such a degree he was able to pick and choose his subjects. Elite figures of high society clamored for him to “do” them. Here is a sampling of such portraits taken from– a very valuable image database that you should consult.


Mentioned (310/485)

Some things we failed to mention. The montage sequence from Bamboozled not only gathers blackface tropes from US pop culture. Note also the amazing score by Terence Blanchard laid over that clip. I would argue that the music functions as a melancholy yet dignified solvent, cutting through the visual sludge of minstrelsy with the sound of one of Black America’s most signal cultural achievements: Jazz.

The invocation of the minstrel figure continues to exert fascination and provoke explosive responses, from Wesley Brown’s novel Darktown Strutters (the title of a film and a song as well) to Little Brother’s 2005 album The Minstrel Show to American Apparel’s ill-advised ad “Sweeter Than Candy, Better Than Cake” (see below).

There are also abundant scholarly studies of blackface performance. Off the top of my head: WT Lhamon’s Raising Cain, Louis Chude-Sokei’s The Last Darky, Robert Toll’s Blacking Up, and Donald Bogle’s Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies and Bucks, all of which I recommend.