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THE ALFRED NEMURS HAITIAN HISTORY COLLECTION: Hidden Treasure at University of Puerto Rico

BUILDINGS, PAINTINGS, AND SCULPTURES adorn the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus, and while many of these works are easily observed, some are less visible, like Russian nesting dolls, in rooms within rooms within buildings. This is the case of two oil paintings that are part of the Alfred Nemours Haitian History Collection, which also includes 638 documents (some signed by Napoleon Bonaparte), 194 books, and 123 illustrations. The collection is located on the third floor of the José M. Lázaro Building.

To bring to light this collection, which UPR has owned since 1962, Humberto García Muñiz, researcher at the Institute of Caribbean Studies, and Aura M. Díaz López, assistant librarian and a student of the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, have written a research article acknowledging Haitian soldier and diplomat Alfred Nemours and his wife for rescuing historical documents of Haiti, other Caribbean countries, and France. Axel Santana, Supervisor of the UPR Library System's Photographic Laboratory, photographed and digitized some of the Nemours Collection for the research article, and Graduate School of Communication student Doralis Pérez Soto translated several of the collection's texts into Spanish.

"The collection mainly focuses on Toussaint L'Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution. It also documents France's economic interest in Haiti and some elements of Ramón Emeterio Betances's vision of Haitian history," says García.

Axel Santana, Aura Díaz y Humberto García Muñíz in front of original
painting, by artist Richard Evans, of Haitian Prince Jaques-Victor-Henri.

Nemours had a privileged education and an illustrious military and diplomatic career, which allowed him to acquire numerous books, study unexplored topics in Haitian history, consult official archives, write several works, and compile material for the collection named after him. Upon Nemours's death, his wife sold the collection to UPR.

"The documentation of this purchase provides us with information about the collection's history and authenticity. In addition, it informs us of the complicated purchasing process," says García. He explains that the French government could have prevented the collection from leaving the country, but it was allowed to leave without the government realizing it included documents signed by

Photograph of sepia collage of Haitian leaders from
L'Overture
until 1902, part of the Nemours collection

Napoleon Bonaparte and two oil portraits, one of the first monarch of Haiti, Henri Christophe, and one of his son, Jacques-Victor-Henri.

According to the research article, English artist Richard Evans painted a portrait of King Henri Christophe's son, prince Jaques-Victor-Henri, a portrait of King Christophe, and two copies of that portrait. Of the latter portraits, the whereabouts are known of only two, and no one knows which is the original. One copy was sent to English abolitionist William Wilberforce and the other as a gift to Tsar Alexander I of Russia for his anti-slave trade position. The Tsar's copy is currently at the Haitian National Pantheon Museum. The painting UPR owns was acquired in 1912 by Nemours' father, who purchased them from the Wilberforce family.

"The Nemours Collection is very valuable to UPR because it provides academics with unique material," says Díaz.

The Nemours Collection is just one of the collections of rare, valuable resources that make up the Josefina del Toro Fulladosa Collection, inaugurated in 1985 to house and protect antique, expensive, and perishable resources that need controlled storage. The Fulladosa collection also contains Puerto Rican bibliophile Genaro Cautiño's collection and the Gelpí Collection.

The research article on the Nemours Collection is published in the Institute of Caribbean Studies journal, Caribbean Studies (vol. 32, July-December 2004).

 

Historical notes on the Haitian revolution

The colony Saint-Domingue, today Haiti, was once the wealthiest in the Caribbean. In 1789 about 500,000 black slaves, 30,000 whites, and more than 28,000 free people of color lived there. In 1791 the slaves rebelled violently.

The 13-year-long Haitian Revolution was the only slave rebellion in history to succeed, but it damaged the island's plantation economy. Haiti became the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, but since slavery existed in the rest of the Americas, many countries refused to recognize Haiti and placed it under trade embargo. Today, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. The development of the sugar industry in Puerto Rico in the nineteenth century is owed to the catastrophe undergone by the sugar industry in Haiti.

 

Timeline of Nemours Collection

       
 

1791-

Beginning of the Haitian revolution
 
       
  1804- Haiti declares independence  
       
  1807- Henri Christophe’s government takes power  
       
  1816 - Richard Evans paints King Henri Christophe and Prince Jacques-Victor-Henri  
       
  1820 - Henri Christophe dies  
       
  1883 - Alfred Nemours is born in Cap Haïtien, Haiti  
       
  1912 - Nemours's father purchases the two Evans paintings from Wilberforce  
       
  1955 - Alfred Nemours dies in Rome, Italy  
       
  1962- UPR purchases the Nemours Collection for ~$9,000  
       
  2005- The paintings are stored in the Fulladosa Collection  
       

hgarcia@prw.net o audiaz@upracd.upr.clu.edu

   
     
 

 

 

 

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