Chéry, Jacques–Richard (1928–   )


120. Noah's Ark_
c1989 (20x24)

   A barber and gas station owner before studying with Philomé Obin in 1951, Chéry is a special case. He has produced masterpieces: a Mother and Child is in the permanent collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum — and another that I foolishly asked a friend to buy and send to me. (She kept it.) Chéry has also done outstanding historical and daily life scenes.
   Most of his work since the 1970s, however, has been kitsch aimed at tourists and other casual buyers: paintings of fat little kids carrying bundles of fruit on their heads. I like Chéry's 'un–kitschish' work. I regret that economic conditions permit him to produce so little of it.


142. Scène rurale
c1995 (20x24)

143. Wedding Procession
c1995 (24x48)

                An Historical Note    

       

In early 2006 Nader's gallery (see Links) had 20x24 versions of the generals, all similar in
background and appearance
to these.

   The four generals idealized in the 8x10 Chéry works (at left) led the only successful slave revolt in history. They defeated the French, causing Napoleon to abandon his plans for an empire in the Americas and to sell Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson and the new United States. (At Southern slaveowners' insistence, the U S refused to recognize Haïti's independence until the administration of Abraham Lincoln. Latin Americans were no better: see Casimir Joseph.)
   
n  Toussaint Louverture, the greatest of the four. His sobriquet, Louverture, came from his success in battle: he seemed always to find an 'opening' through which to push his ragtag forces to victory. Though leading a bitter fight, he preached reconciliation with the erstwhile French slave–owners and the mulatre elite — and managed to persuade his 'army' of brutalized ex–slaves to treat the blancs a lot better than the whites had ever treated them.

   He also had the foresight to recognize that Haïti could not prosper on subsistence agriculture. He mandated the preservation of the large plantations developed by the French, but with blacks paid as free workers. Economically the idea made sense; it made no sense to the masses of recently freed slaves.

   As the French were losing, they awarded Toussaint a general's baton (hence the tricoleur bonnet in Chéry's painting). Bonaparte's agents soon tricked Toussaint into attending a peace conference; kidnapped him; and sent him to France in chains. He died in a freezing Jura Mountains dungeon of starvation and physical abuse.
   Toussaint Louverture is one of history's great men and most tragic heroes. Wordsworth mourned the noble Haitian's martyrdom in a moving poem.

 

 

 

 

   n  Alexandre Petion, the only mulatre of the four. He became president of a 'republic' at first confined to the south, then extended over the whole country. Some hold that, by allowing ex–slaves to break large plantations into tiny holdings, he set Haïti on the course to its present–day poverty. But Petion's 'land reform' was a lot more popular with peasants than the virtual serfdom that accompanied the maintenance of large holdings in the rival northern realm. (It was a gargantuan indemnity exacted in 1825 by the French government — for the land and human 'property' their citizens had lost — that finally crushed the brave little country's economy.)
   
n  Jean–Jacques Dessalines, the most cruel — but also, in ways, the most effective. After bringing the revolution to a successful conclusion in 1803, he crowned himself emperor as Jacques I. Aside from commissioning the first Haitian constitution, Dessalines shaped the country's flag by tearing the white panel out of the tricoleur, leaving only the blue and red. His increasingly arbitrary and tyrannical rule spawned many conspiracies. He was ambushed and killed near Port-au-Prince in a conspiracy headed by Alexandre Petion and Henry Christophe.
   
n  Henry Christophe, Dessalines's successor as 'le roi Henri' — immortalized, or caricatured, in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones. A visionary who pushed education and other reforms, Christophe is best remembered for his Citadelle, a mighty fortress that would have been useless against the French invasion he feared.
 

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(Chéry's renderings are both more cartoonish and less imaginative than Sully Obin's, which more clearly distinguish the generals.)

           

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