Joseph Abraham Doneus (Surinam, c. 1825 – after 1878)

Joseph Abraham Doneus
(Suriname, c. 1825 – after 1878)
oil on mahogany panel, a triptych on a fold-in base, total height 31 cm,
the main panel c. 27.7 x 23.1 cm, the wings each measuring c. 27.9 x 11.7 cm
signed on the left wing l.c.: J : A Doneus • pinx
a handwritten inventory number in black felt pen on dorso t.c.: K -21-47
Provenance: private collection, The Netherlands

Hardly anything is known about the generation of Surinamese painters who mastered the art of painting during slavery. Among the group of eight people mentioned as painters before 1863 is Joseph Abraham Doneus. Not much is known about his life, his work is the only tangible testimony left of his existence. It is very interesting and rare to be able to exhibit this work, not only because of its beauty, but also as a historical document of the stylistic development of the surinames art community: what subject matter they chose, what technique they used. Moreover, the painting presented here is in full ‘J.A. Doneus pinx’, signed, and is the only existing exampled of a work signed by a painter born in slavery during the Dutch Kingdom. Formally, The depicted figure group gives the impression of going back to an existing example, possibly a print, and the same seems to apply to the floral still life visible on the shutters (de carnation does not originally occur in South America). Rather than a classic triptych this is a single continuous representation, in fact a ‘folding painting’, and the work in this setup seems to withdraw from the Western tradition. Technically the piece is skilfully painted, showing that the atist had had some training in oil paint. Delicate and simple, the work is a precious trace of time, one to hold dear and that deserve much broader research within the realm of Dutch art history.

-Text by Sara van Bussel