Monday, 29 December 2014
The images are of my piece unfired just after I finished modelling it in the studio toady. It's always tricky illustrating characters from history when there are no surviving portraits or photographs to work from. In some ways it makes things easier as I don't have to get the face to be an accurate representation. In other ways it is more difficult- having to make every decision about hair, dimensions, expression, attractiveness. As she has a remarkable and rare story that involves gender appearance/disguise I wanted my Jeanne Baret to be celebrated as and look like a woman. At the same time I wanted to illustrate how she may have been able to pass as a man on board ship. I wanted her to look intelligent and attractive without falling into cliches of what that might look like. I probably didn't achieve all these things, but that's what I had in mind.
'Whatever the case, Baret and Commerson did not continue on with the Etoile after the masquerade was discovered. They disembarked at Mauritius, much to the relief of Bougainville who did not want to deal with having a woman illegally aboard his naval ship. The pair later travelled to Madagascar to document plants there, discovering a plant named after Baret—the Baretia bonafidia. Unfortunately, the plant had already been discovered and named by the time Commerson’s sample made it back to Paris. Only one plant from the expedition honours Baret—the Solanum baretiae—while over seventy species honour Commerson.
Commerson ended up dying on Mauritius, leaving Baret with a lot of preserved plants and records and little means of returning home to France. She found work on the island and married a French officer named Jean Dubernat. Then, around 1775, Jeanne Baret returned to France with her husband and plant specimens in tow. The plants were turned over to the government, and Baret was later granted a pension for her service on the expedition. Bougainville reportedly said her behaviour was exemplary aboard the ship—she was modest and hard-working. The pension honoured her great courage on the expedition, despite the fact that she had disguised herself as a man.'