Florence Mills and Le Tumulte Noir

The top image above is from the remarkable folder of hand colored lithograph prints published in 1927 by the famous French artist Paul Colin under the title Le Tumulte NoirColin's images were inspired by the sensation that Josephine Baker created  in 1925 with her show La Revue Negre.

 His iconic portraits of Josephine dancing wildly with her banana skirt became synonymous with the rage for all things African American that swept Paris in those years but his collection included many other images, including French stars like Maurice Chevalier and Cecile Sorel.  For over eighty years this image was assumed to be of a male dancer, possibly Spanish.

 Seeing it for the first time recently, in the Art Deco Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne), I was  struck by the resemblance to photos and images of Florence Mills performing the number "Shuffling Home" in Blackbirds of 1926.  All the details of the costume matched, as can be seen from the two lower images ( a  publicity photo from Blackbirds of 1926 and  a French newspaper cartoon  that appeared when Florence was performing in Paris for 3 months,  at the very time Colin was creating his famous images).

Intrigued by my apparent discovery of a previously unidentified historic image of Florence Mills, I sent my evidence to the American National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute, which has a copy of the Paul Colin images in its collection, and was delighted to receive the following confirmation:

"This is wonderful news. You have very persuasive evidence and I can’t see any reason not to agree that the portrait is Florence Mills, especially when she was performing in Blackbirds in 1926. We do have the entire portfolio so we will change our records. And hopefully we’ll soon find an opportunity to exhibit our new found Florence Mills".

With hindsight one can easily now see that it would have been amazing had Paul Colin not portrayed Florence Mills and her role in le tumulte noir in those heady days but  the truth has now been revealed and Florence will have another iconic portrait to honor her in the USA National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.


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