Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 5-6-2021


Black representation in late-nineteenth to early-twentieth-century U.S. art and visual culture is primarily dominated by racist depictions produced by white elite (usually male) artists. Exploiting Black male nude subjects in their art production, F. Holland Day and John Singer Sargent are inextricably tied to this complicated legacy. For Day, his African series featuring U.S.-born model, J.R. Carter, extracts the subject from his time and place to present him as an exotic African subject/object. On the other hand, Sargent encounters Black Bahamian laborers at Miami’s Villa Vizcaya where he then documents his subjects in watercolor as bathers in the surrounding subtropical landscape. Day and Sargent each viewed Black male nude subjects as subservient, foreign, and abnormal entities that were exclusively admired for their beautiful physiques and unchallenged transactional availability. The subjectivities of these men were swept into the process of social, class-based, racial, and nativist differentiation used to mask Day and Sargent’s homoerotic desires and fantasies.

Through two case studies, I analyze Day’s African series and Sargent’s watercolors of Black Bahamian laborers as evidence of their ambivalent racial interactions, which oscillate between sexual admiration and ideological debasement. I argue that these bodies of work expose Day and Sargent’s anxious conformance to U.S. racism in ways that deflect attention from their own anti-normative identifications. Through this process, their artistic genius and white masculine positions are sustained but, most importantly, their American identities remain intact.



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Kirsten Pai Buick

Second Committee Member

Kevin Mulhearn

Third Committee Member

Maureen G. Shanahan


race and art history, racism in art, U.S. art, white masculinity, blackness and aesthetic