Benoit, Rigaud (1911 - 1986)



Benoit was an early member of the Haitian art movement known as Naive Art, so-called because of its members' limited formal training. The movement was first recognized and promoted by the Centre d'Art, founded in 1944 by the American Quaker and World War II conscientious objector Dewitt Peters. According to a widely repeated story, Benoit was working as Peters's chauffeur in 1944 when he saw some of the first works displayed at the Centre d'Art. He immediately decided he could do as well as any of the featured artists. Late in life Benoit denied that tale, insisting that he had merely visited the Centre out of curiosity before submitting his first works to Peters. He is featured, giving that account, in Krik? Krak! (Tales of a Nightmare), a VHS feature by Jac Avila and Vanyoska Gee (VHS, 78 minutes. Chicago: Facets Video, 1997). However he got his start, his paintings rapidly became among the most highly sought of any Haitian artist. Then, in the early 1950s Benoit was one of a handful of artists asked to decorate the interior of the Cathedral of Sainte Trinité; his great mural, Nativity, stood above the high altar. (The Catholic archbishop had — to his subsequent regret — denied permission for "mere Haitians" to decorate the Roman cathedral. The Episcopal bishop eagerly consented to the project. On seeing the result he exclaimed "Thank God!, they painted Haitians.") The cathedral and its many masterpieces was all but totally destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake. Some of Benoit's later work was surrealistic, though he continued to produce scenes of Haitian life — narrative scenes — until his death. 

Benoit married the daughter of his friend, the legendary Hector Hyppolite, the first Haitian artist to win international recognition — and still the most acclaimed — in international art circles. They had four children. Three of them — Yves Lafontant and Jacques Dorce, both adopted, and Rigaud Benoit, fils — are also accomplished artists. (Benoit fils lives in New York, his sister in Montreal.) Benoit's work is characterized by precise draftsmanship, muted colors (compared with most Haitian artists outside the Northern or Cap-Haïtien school), and often — in his narrative paintings — a sense of humor. His surrealist paintings mostly depict voodoo scenes or deities lwas. (Haïti is, the saying goes, "80 percent Catholic and 100 percent Vodou." In the past century evangelical Protestantism has reduced both figures.) Benoit worked slowly — usually fewer than half-a-dozen pieces a year. Following a near-fatal automobile accident early in 1980, his production declined further. He had, by that time, attained a measure of financial security: he owned a comfortable cottage on the outskirts of the Haitian capital.

Centre-dArt Port-au-Prince
Reve de Mariage, 1974
Reve de Mariage, 1974
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Nude, 1948
Nude, 1948
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Dance, 1974
Dance, 1974
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Untitled (La Sirene), 1955
Untitled (La Sirene), 1955
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Private A10014
Le Jardin d'Éden, 1982
Le Jardin d'Éden, 1982
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Matt Dunn Collection
Vodou Priest, 1954
Vodou Priest, 1954
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Boca Raton Museum of Art
Marche a la Campagne, 1945
Marche a la Campagne, 1945
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Island On Fire: Jonathan Demme
Premiere Communion de ma Fille, 1968
Premiere Communion de ma Fille, 1968
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Figge Art Museum
Choucoune (Yellow Bird), 1967
Choucoune (Yellow Bird), 1967
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Figge Art Museum
Calice (Chalice), 1968
Calice (Chalice), 1968
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Figge Art Museum
Bal du Carnival, 1979
Bal du Carnival, 1979
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Figge Art Museum
Les Nids (The Nests), 1967
Les Nids (The Nests), 1967
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Figge Art Museum
Desounen, 1980
Desounen, 1980
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Figge Art Museum
Enter the Oungan, 1950
Enter the Oungan, 1950
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Milwaukee Art Museum
LaSirene, 1962
LaSirene, 1962
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Drs. Roslyn and Lloyd Siegel Collection
The Thinking Woman (La Femme qui Pense), 1947
The Thinking Woman (La Femme qui Pense), 1947
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Milwaukee Art Museum
Shipwreck II, 1965
Shipwreck II, 1965
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Le bal, 1977
Le bal, 1977
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Fondation Marie et Georges S. Nader
La Sirene en Voyage, 1980
La Sirene en Voyage, 1980
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Waterloo Center For the Arts
Gathering Pomegranates, 1973
Gathering Pomegranates, 1973
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Spencer Museum of Art
Untitled Woodcut, 1947
Untitled Woodcut, 1947
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Museum of Modern Art
Revenge, 1956
Revenge, 1956
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Island On Fire: Jonathan Demme
The Healing of the Sick, 1964
The Healing of the Sick, 1964
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Selden Rodman Gallery at Ramapo College
Femme Fleur, 1958
Femme Fleur, 1958
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Fondation Marie et Georges S. Nader
The Mermaid Throwing Her Net, 1985
The Mermaid Throwing Her Net, 1985
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Kay and Roderick Heller Collection
Bird on Oil, 1966
Bird on Oil, 1966
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Waterloo Center For the Arts
Ceremony for the Bull, 1981
Ceremony for the Bull, 1981
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Untitled (Tree Cutting Accident), 1959
Untitled (Tree Cutting Accident), 1959
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Ceremony for Hector Hyppolite’s Recall, 1978
Ceremony for Hector Hyppolite’s Recall, 1978
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Adoration of Virgin Mary, 1956
Adoration of Virgin Mary, 1956
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Adam and Eve, 1978
Adam and Eve, 1978
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Queen of Africa, 1947
Queen of Africa, 1947
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Les Sirenes, 1956
Les Sirenes, 1956
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Huntington Museum of Art
Hell, 1962
Hell, 1962
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Huntington Museum of Art
Children playing, 1962
Children playing, 1962
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Private A10011
Woman Picking Mangos
Woman Picking Mangos
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Kay and Roderick Heller Collection
Initiation Ceremony, 1981
Initiation Ceremony, 1981
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Beverly and John Fox Sullivan
Country Dance, 1948-52
Country Dance, 1948-52
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Beverly and John Fox Sullivan
Cockfight, 1950's
Cockfight, 1950's
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Beverly and John Fox Sullivan
Damballah Wedo and His Consort, 1967
Damballah Wedo and His Consort, 1967
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Beverly and John Fox Sullivan
Flower Carnival (Carnaval des Fleurs), 1973
Flower Carnival (Carnaval des Fleurs), 1973
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Milwaukee Art Museum
Recall of the Dead, 1973
Recall of the Dead, 1973
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Milwaukee Art Museum