[Group of Betsimisaraka women]

Object Details


[Group of Betsimisaraka women]


Désiré Charnay (French, 1828 - 1915)




Madagascar (Place created)




Albumen silver print


18.3 × 16.4 cm (7 3/16 × 6 7/16 in.)

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Claude-Joseph Désiré Charnay went to Madagascar in 1863 as part of a government-sponsored expedition to extend French political influence there. When Charnay's party left France, there was a pro-French prince on the throne in Madagascar; by the time they arrived, the prince had been assassinated and the new government had reinstated an official policy of resistance to the French presence.

In this tense environment Charnay made photographs of native individuals and ethnic types. As an anthropologist, he was interested in their physical appearance and costumes more than their individual identities. The population of Madagascar was made up of the ruling Hova tribe and the native Madegasse, to which group the women pictured here belonged. The three women and the girl stand in the center of the frame, presenting themselves to the camera in silent formality. Charnay was an enthusiastic imperialist who rather patronizingly described the Madegasse as "of a gentle and timid disposition, faithful and devoted." He was successful in getting them to pose, representing the island's colonized population in their finery of French printed cotton.

The Flowering of Early French Photography, 1840-1870 (April 28 to June 28, 1987)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), April 28 to June 28, 1987
The Flowering of Early French Photography: Selections from the J. Paul Getty Museum Collection (December 20, 1988 to May 7, 1989)
  • The Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore), December 20, 1988 to February 12, 1989
  • Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo), March 11 to May 7, 1989
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

Decary, Raymond and André Jammes,. "Un visiteur oublié de Madagascar." La Revue de Madagascar (1968), nos. 43, 44.

Davis, Keith F. Désiré Charnay, Expeditionary Photographer (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981).