An Ethiopian Chief

Object Details


An Ethiopian Chief


Fred Holland Day (American, 1864 - 1933)




negative 1897; print about 1905


Gum bichromate print


11.9 x 11.7 cm (4 11/16 x 4 5/8 in.)

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This striking photograph was part of Fred Holland Day's "Nubian" series of costume and figure studies of black males in 1897. The sitter's identity is unknown, and Day was clearly attempting to represent him not as an individual but rather as an ideal type.

Photographed from slightly below eye-level, the "chief" casts a glance down at the viewer. Along with his open, assertive posture, his haughty, imperious gaze successfully conjures up a chief's commanding presence, even if the designation is fictional. The robe the sitter wears is North African; the pigeon-feather headdress, though it lends a strong pictorial effect, is not.

The gently dappled light and soft tones of the gum bichromate print render the sitter's boldly exposed, velvety skin as sensually as possible. Alfred Stieglitz reproduced the image as a photogravure in his Camera Notes in 1897.

Arrows of Time: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (January 24 to April 2, 1995)
  • Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at UCLA (Los Angeles), January 24 to April 2, 1995
In Focus: The Nude (October 9, 2007 to February 24, 2008)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 9, 2007 to February 24, 2008