Black History Month & Tissot’s Irish muse

October 10, 2021

There have been many fascinating stories published and broadcast as part of Black History Month this October - here are just two. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography had this on John Blanke, a trumpeter of African descent who played in ceremonies at the courts of Tudor kings Henry VII and Henry VIII. He is the only identifiable black person portrayed in sixteenth-century British art.

Also for Black History month, the Wartime NI website had this on race relations in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. The image below is from the US National Archives (Photo: 8208-AA-46G-1) and shows African-American soldiers drawing rations at their camp in Northern Ireland in around August 1942. An excellent book which looks at the experiences of American troops, including African-Americans, in the UK during the Second World War is Rich Relations: the American Occupation of Britain (1995) by Festival contributor David Reynolds.

African-American Troops in Northern Ireland

The Ulster Museum has recently acquired a painting by French artist James (Jacques) Joseph Tissot entitled Quiet and featuring his Irish lover Kathleen Newton (1854-1882) with her young niece. Born in India to Irish parents, she had an unhappy arranged marriage, was divorced, lived as a single mother and then became Tissot's lover. He painted her frequently. She died of TB at the age of 28. More on this in the Belfast Telegraph and the NMNI website. Image below courtesy of the Belfast Telegraph.

Captivating: ‘Quiet’, the painting of Kathleen Newton by Jacques Tissot in the garden of his house in London

And finally our friends at the Dublin Festival of History had some fantastic talks this year - we tuned in to a talk called Wartime Work Opportunities for Irish Women by Dublin City Council Historian in Residence, Dr. Mary Muldowney, which I don't think is online. However, the final event can be viewed - it's Diarmaid Ferriter in conversation with Ronan McGreevy with a talk entitled: Between Two Hells – The Irish Civil War.