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February 23, 2024

Acquisition: Renée Green, "Commemorative Toile", 1992–1993

Renée Green, "Commemorative Toile"

Renée Green
Commemorative Toile, 1992–1993
two lengths of custom-printed fabric (toile), custom upholstered wood chair, custom upholstered divan
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Firestone Contemporary Art Acquisition Fund

One of the leading conceptual artists of her generation, Renée Green (b. 1959) has developed a rich multimedia practice that encompasses installation, sculpture, book design, painting, video, and film. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Commemorative Toile (1992–1993), one of the groundbreaking installations of the 1990s that established the artist’s reputation.

At the center of this installation are reproductions of a Queen Anne chair and an early 19th-century-style divan upholstered in red-and-white fabric printed in a traditional French pattern known as toile de Jouy, a textile of South Asian origin. Behind the pieces of furniture, two panels of toile fabric printed in the same pattern hang on a bright red wall. The pattern of the fabric and wallpaper evokes both the intersecting themes of color, property, and taste—central to Green’s 1990s practice—and the French and British colonial slave economies suggested by the toile’s unsettling imagery.

Green produced the fabric for Commemorative Toile during a residency at the Philadelphia Fabric Workshop in 1992–1993. To make the bolts of cloth, she printed images of engravings from the original edition of the book The Image of the Black in Western Art (1976) among rococo scenes of country life and romantic love typical of decorative toile de Jouy patterns. The appropriated images of Green’s Commemorative Toile depict violent scenes of the slave trade and the Haitian Revolution, including the inhumane inspection of an African captive by an enslaver and a formerly enslaved person exacting retribution on a French soldier. Also depicted are the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture in prison, dictating his memoirs; the character Ourika from Clare de Duras’s eponymous novel, a fictional portrait of an African girl raised in the French court; and the “Sable Venus,” a Botticelli-inspired Black nude crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a half-shell and guided by white putti and Triton, who carries the Union Jack, emblem of British Empire.

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