Pictures Fremiet

Emmanuel Fremiet, Gorille enlevant une négresse, 1859





  Emmanuel Fremiet, Gorille enlevant une femme, 1887


PhD research / promotie-onderzoek Universiteit Leiden

Terribly repulsive but wonderfully vigorous

Reverse Engineering Fremiet’s Gorilla’s

Emmanuel Fremiet’s (1824-1910) Gorille enlevant une négresse (1859) is a gruesome image of a gorilla carrying off a black woman. This sculpture, an autonomous sculpture which was shown in the Parisian Salon behind a curtain as a way of delaying the cruel shock for the audience, is seen as the first King Kong image in visual history. In a way, it is an unproblematic depiction of the bigotry of French society, with its inherent racism and sexism. In contrast, a closer ‘reading’ (‘observation’) of the sculpture (and its sculptural ‘offspring’) reveals and produces a new cloud of questions. Within different research disciplines, questions arise of biographical, anthropological, biological, racial, historiographical, sculptural-historical, nationalistic and gender-related nature. Also, the histories of the relation of nineteenth-century French (and of lesser importance English, and ‘German’) pet-owners, animal-keepers, zoo-founders intertwine and are concurrent with the attitudes toward (and histories of) colonialism, slavery and prehistory. For the final dissertation text, my strategy of breaking down the problem has resulted in five different chapters. Each of these chapters is involved in a different domain, in which the gorilla sculpture is a central (theoretical) object.