Wilson Bigaud

(b. 1931)

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(1931?– )

Haitian naive painter, born into a poor family in Port-au-Prince. He was encouraged by Hector Hyppolite, who was a neighbour, and in 1946 he began studying at the Centre d'Art in Port-au-Prince; this had been established two years earlier by the American teacher DeWitt Peters (1902–66) as a place where artists could attend classes and exhibit their work. Bigaud rapidly established a reputation as an artist of outstanding talent, hailed as the ‘Raphael’ of Haitian painting because of the limpid beauty of his work, in which he combined lush detail with clarity of design. His output included portraits and everyday life scenes, as well as religious subjects (both Christian and Voodoo). When he was only 21, he became the first Haitian to have a picture accepted for the Carnegie International Exhibition—Earthly Paradise (1952, Musée d'Art Haitien, Port-au-Prince). This success was almost immediately followed by a commission to paint a large Marriage Feast at Cana for Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince, which is often cited as his masterpiece. In 1957, however, he suffered a series of mental breakdowns, said to have been caused by Voodoo powers because he had devoted too much of his efforts to glorifying Christianity (it has been remarked that in Haiti, ninety per cent of the population is Catholic, but one hundred per cent is Voodoo). According to the World Encyclopedia of Naive Art (ed. O. Bihalji-Merin and N.-B. Tomašević, 1984), Bigaud ‘eventually became the puppet of a Mambo (Voodoo priestess). She kept him in the backwoods churning out worse and worse paintings, which she would subsequently sell for a few dollars on her trips to Port-au-Prince.’

Subjects: Art.

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