Cordier’s sculptures combined ethnographic realism with classical idealism to promote French colonial expansion and pseudo-scientific taxonomies of race. A half-sized version of a bronze and marble bust that he exhibited at the 1861 Salon in Paris, this represents an example from Cordier’s state-sponsored project to portray universal, Eurocentric standards of beauty through diverse human racial types. Now considered an obsolete slur, “la capresse,” a title chosen by the artist and one of several used during his lifetime, referred to a woman of predominantly African and some European ancestry from the French Caribbean colonies. The identity of the sitter is not known, but Cordier probably met her in Paris. Like French ethnographic photography of his time, Cordier’s sculptures contributed to racist ideologies that underpinned colonial policies.


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