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Although the early ownership history of this work is not known, Brunias created such idealised views of life in the sugar colonies of the British West Indies to sell to plantation landowners and colonial administrators, although he also published prints in London and Paris which made his images more widely known.The painting is typical of Brunias’s work, in showing a mixture of men and women from African and mixed African and European descent engaged in leisure-time activities in a public space.The scene therefore includes figures who would have been expected by contemporary viewers to be slaves (the darker skinned men and women) intermingling with others of higher social status who might be free women of colour (the lighter-skinned women wearing more European-style costumes).2 The costumes of the figures also combine European and African elements (with turbans and headwraps in combination with corsets and shirts, and all the figures barefoot).

Instead, we are treated to a scene of apparently free and independent leisure activity among the black and ‘mulatto’ population (the term ‘mulatto’ was used in the eighteenth century to describe men and women from mixed African and European descent).The historian of Dominica, Lennox Honychurch, who has made a particular study of Brunias, has advised that the landscape looks very much like that surrounding the towns of Kingstown, St.Vincent and Roseau, Dominica, both located on volcanic islands in rather similar locations, with hills close behind the towns.7 The presence of stone-built houses and the evidence of commercial activity (in the form of the shop sign) reinforces the impression that the scene is intended to represent the outskirts of either of these colonial conurbations.Vincent, the male figure to the centre right of the present painting, wearing a bandanna and sash, appears in a slightly different costume in the smaller painting of The Handkerchief Dance (Carmen Thyssen–Bornemisza Collection, Museo Thyssen–Bornemisza, Madrid).8 Such visual transfers can be interpreted as the working practice of an artist finding a successful market for such images and simply recycling his compositions.But these grafts also show the degree to which these images remained reliant on a conventionalised and incomplete understanding of the social worlds they purported to represent (and were subject to pictorial conventions imported from Europe), even though Brunias knew these worlds at first hand and may even have raised a family with a non-white woman in Dominica.9 As with other images of life in the British West Indies by Brunias the major economic reason for colonization and the creation of slave plantations in the Caribbean – the production of sugar and coffee – is not made explicitly visible (although the windmill and plantation buildings in the distance register that the land was being worked).

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