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After a work attributed to Frederick Christian Lewis (1779-1856)

Sarah Baartman (1789-1815) c. 1810

Hand-coloured etching | 33.8 x 23.6 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 661166

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  • A hand-coloured portrait print of Sara Baartman (also known as Saartjie), a Khoikhoi woman from what is now the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She is shown full-length and in profile to the right. Almost nude, she wears beads and fringes, a patterned cap, a mantle over her right shoulder, pointed shoes and holds a long staff in her left hand. She smokes a short pipe and has face-paint on her face. 
    This print is derived from and reverses an aquatint attributed to Frederick Christian Lewis from 1810 (see RCIN 661167), the year that Baartman was brought to London and put on display as the 'Hottentot Venus' in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Hottentot is a derogatory term used at the time to describe those of Khoikhoi descent.

    Following a period in London, Baartman was taken around the country and displayed in Bury St Edmunds, Colchester and Manchester, where she was baptised. A.E. Wright states that provincial handbills sometimes listed 'elegant engravings of the Venus' after or by Lewis available to sale at the exhibition sites, so this impression could be one such example (A.E. Wright, ''The Hottentot Venus: An alternative iconography', The British Art Journal, XIV, 2013, pp. 59-70).

    Baartman was born in the vicinity of the Camdeboo near the Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Her birthname is unknown but she was given the Afrikaans name of Saartjie (the diminutive form of Sara, which can indicate familiarity or contempt) while she was working as a servant in Cape Town. It is unclear if she moved willingly to Cape Town but she entered the service of a trader called Peter Cezars. She later moved to the household of Peter's brother Hendrik. A Scottish military surgeon William Dunlop, who also supplied animal specimens to showmen in England, suggested that Baartman travelled to London in order to make money exhibiting herself. She initially refused and it is unclear if she willingly travelled to London in 1810 with Dunlop and Hendrik Cezars.

    The exhibition of Baartman caused a sensation in London and attracted the attention of abolitionists from the African Association who thought that she was being exploited and being exhibited against her will. They took the matter to court on 24 November 1810 and tried to demonstrate that the men who brought her to London had referred to her as property and argued that she was exhibited in degrading conditions under coercion. Baartman herself was questioned at the trial, but the presence of Dunlop in court may have influenced her testimony. She claimed that she travelled to London of her own free will, was not under restraint and had not been sexually abused. Baartman also stated that she did not wish to return to her family and that she was guaranteed half the profits. As a result of her testimony the case was dismissed.

    Around September 1814, Baartman travelled to France with a man called Henry Taylor, who subsequently sold her to an animal trainer called S. Réaux. In France, she was effectively enslaved and was exhibited for 15 months at the Palais Royal in Paris. During her time in Paris, she attracted the attention of the anatomist Georges Cuvier and she was studied by anatomists and artists. Baartman died in December 1815 from an unknown inflammatory ailment, possibly smallpox. Following her death, a cast was made of her body and she was partially dissected by Cuvier. Parts of Sara's anatomy were displayed at what was to become the Musée de l'Homme in Paris. Her body was repatriated to South Africa for burial in 2002.

  • Medium and techniques

    Hand-coloured etching


    33.8 x 23.6 cm (sheet of paper)

  • Category
    Object type(s)
  • Alternative title(s)

    SARTJEE.THE.HOTTENTOT.VENUS / from Gamtoos River South Africa  [lettered title]