Louverture’s elusive character and the extremes of historical interpretation it has inspired are mirrored in the diversity of pictorial representations of the man that have appeared in print and on canvas since 1802. What he really looked like is not entirely clear. All surviving descriptions written by contemporaries date from the final years of his life and usually tell us little more than that he was slightly built, dark in complexion, and about average height. Marcus Rainsford, who claimed to have met him in 1799, wrote “Toussaint was of a manly form, above the middle stature, with a countenance bold and striking, yet full of the most prepossessing suavity.” (68) For Jean-Pierre Ramel, who met him in 1802 and praised him as perspicacious, bold, decisive, frugal, and a devoted family man, he was “of average height, repulsive to look at, ugly, even for a black.” (69)

1. Cousin D'Avallon, Histoire de Toussaint, Paris, 1802. JCB

2. Dubroca, Vida de J. J. Dessalines, Mexico, 1806. JCB

3. Vita privata politica e militare di Toussaint, Milan, 1802. JCB

4. Toussaint-Louvertures frühere Geschichte, Fürth, 1802. JCB

5. Dubroca, Vie de Toussaint, Paris, 1802. JCB

6. "Toussaint Louverture Chef des Noirs Insurgés de Saint Domingue," Paris, [1802]. JCB


None of the early iconography of the revolution helps very much with this issue.  Most of the pictures of Toussaint that were published in his lifetime or shortly afterward were drawn by people who had neither seen him nor even been to the Caribbean. The portraits that were hurriedly concocted in 1802 for the works of Dubroca and Cousin d’Avallon, for the Vita privata in Italy, and the Frühere Geschichte in Germany, and the two portraits published in Mexico City in 1806 bear little resemblance to one another except for their rather cartoonish appearance (figures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). (70) And none resembles the undated and anonymous equestrian print that was published under the title Toussaint Louverture, Chef des Noirs Insurgés de Saint Domingue probably at this time (figure 6). The Scots caricaturist John Kay, who brought out his own Louverture engraving in 1802, sought to solve this problem of not knowing what his subject looked like with the unusual device of a rear-view profile. (71) Yet another print from 1802 that depicts Toussaint wearing ear-rings, creole-style, might be supposed a good likeness, because it is labeled “Se vend au Cap” (for sale at the Cape) and this has misled some into thinking it was marketed in Saint Domingue.(72) However, it is obviously a French propaganda piece that implied Toussaint was selling himself to the British and Americans.

7. Marcus Rainsford, Historical Account, London, 1805. JCB


Particularly perplexing is the often reproduced, full-length portrait published in 1805 in Captain Rainsford’s Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti (figure 7). Since the author states he had met Toussaint and that the engravings in his book (by J. Barlow) were based on sketches he made, the portrait has a prima facie claim to authenticity. Yet just as Rainsford’s written description, cited above, seems slightly at odds with those of other contemporaries, so, too, does the robust figure depicted in this engraving. Strangest of all is Louverture’s uniform: with the sole exception of John Kay’s 1802 print, it looks nothing like those he is described or depicted as wearing in any other work.

As Grégory Pierrot points out, the uniform seems much more British than French. (73) The felt round hat with a cockade and plume, the sleeves with multiple chevrons, and the tasseled half-boots suggest that of an officer in one of the many Caribbean black regiments the British raised during the 1790s—except that their officers were almost exclusively white. (74) Since Rainsford was himself an officer in such a corps, one might imagine that the publisher’s engraver made a mistake when sorting through the captain’s sketches, or that he used Kay’s Edinburgh print as a model. However, the uniform in both pictures corresponds to a written description Rainsford had already given in his Memoir published early in 1802, so responsibility for the depiction was indeed his. (75) Whether he deliberately Anglicized his representation of Toussaint, as Grégory Pierrot argues, (76) or the picture records an arcane episode in the history of military ephemera, or Rainsford’s story of meeting the black leader was fabricated, or deformed by a faulty memory, remains far from evident.

8. Nicolas Maurin, "Toussaint Louverture," Paris, 1838.


The most frequently reproduced and imitated image of Toussaint Louverture is the lithograph by Nicolas Maurin published by François Séraphin Delpech in 1832 (fig.8 ). (77) Many, especially modern, commentators have considered it a racist caricature. Yet, despite its late date, the portrait is among those with the best claim to veracity, because it was supposedly based on a picture (since lost) that Toussaint himself had presented to the colonial official Roume Saint-Laurent in 1801. (78) Although it is quite possible that Maurin’s version might have exaggerated features of the original, it corresponds closely to the description General Caffarelli penned of Louverture in his jail cell some six months before his death and sent to Bonaparte: “Toussaint Louverture has … big eyes, very prominent cheek bones, a flat but fairly long nose, a large mouth with no upper teeth, a very prominent lower jaw.” (79) Those who dismiss the Maurin picture as hostile propaganda tend to be unaware that Toussaint had lost his upper set of front teeth in the mid-1790s, when he was hit by a cannonball.

9. Denis Volozan, c.1800-1825, Musée d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux. 


Quite similar facial features can be seen in Denis Volozan’s striking equestrian portrait executed in Philadelphia sometime in the first quarter of the nineteenth century (fig. 9). Several scholars have suggested that it may have been sketched from life, in the belief that the artist’s family owned land in Saint Domingue and that he perhaps visited the colony during the revolution. (80) As nothing is known about Volozan’s existence between his leaving the Académie Royale de Peinture in 1787 and his arrival in the United States in 1799, the thesis appears plausible. (81) However, until he married a creole heiress in Philadelphia around 1810, there is no evidence his family had anything to do with Saint Domingue and no reason to think that he went there. It is nonetheless possible that Volozan saw the portrait supposedly given to Roume Saint -Laurent, when that official passed through Philadelphia in the fall of 1801. This would mean that it is not an independent source regarding Louverture’s appearance, but it does reinforce the Maurin portrait’s claim to authenticity. 

10. Gragnon-Lacoste, Toussaint-Louverture, Paris, 1877.


Many artists have reworked the Maurin image over the years. A rival iconographic tradition stems from another nineteenth-century French portrait, which also was reputedly based on a picture drawn from life. Gragnon-Lacoste states that the lithograph (by Leboiteux) used as a frontispiece for his 1877 biography was copied from a portrait belonging to the Louverture family (fig. 10). The original (now lost) was drawn by a military engineer named Montfayon, who presented it to Isaac Louverture in 1818. Isaac, apparently, considered it the only true likeness of his father.(82) This item can be grouped with a medallion portrait, formerly owned by Gragnon-Lacoste, now in the Musée du Panthéon, Port-au-Prince. Although the pose in the two pieces is different, their similarity suggests they were probably based on the same original.(83)  In contrast to the Maurin portrait, often condemned as racist caricature, this version is frequently interpreted as an attempt to “whiten” Toussaint’s image in conformity to nineteenth-century European tastes. While this may well be true, the image likely represents a somewhat younger Toussaint, before he had lost his teeth. This helps explain the reaction of Isaac, who barely saw his father after the age of eleven.

11. Pierre-Charles Bacquoy. Photographed by Jacques de Cauna.


There is a third lineage in Louverture portraiture, the influence of which is visible on Haitian currency, calendars, and fine art, but as it derives from a painting made in the 1940s (by Enrique Caravia), it is of no historical significance.(84)  By far the most important recent development in this area was the discovery of a full-length picture of a forlorn, bare-headed Toussaint Louverture in 1989. It was found in the attic of the French ambassador’s house in Port-au-Prince, which had formerly belonged to President Élie Lescot. The depiction of Toussaint’s face lies somewhere between those of the Maurin and Montfayon portraits. Photographed by cultural attaché Jacques de Cauna, it constitutes an iconographic counterpart to the documentary discoveries of Debien and Ménier the previous decade (fig. 11).(85)

The portrait is by Pierre-Charles Bacquoy, a well known Parisian engraver, and presumably was purchased in Paris by President Lescot. De Cauna believes the picture was drawn from life in July 1802 and represents Louverture’s arrival in France as a prisoner. He points to the subject’s despondent air and advanced age, the uniform’s lack of epaulettes, perhaps torn off in disgrace, and the fact he is not wearing a saber but carrying one, as if it had just been handed to him. The artist must have rushed out to the port of Brest, de Cauna suggests, to capture on paper the great man’s downfall. (86) He notes, however, that the background is “vaguely tropical,” and he offers no explanation as to how an outsider gained access to a high-security state prisoner, who was being held incommunicado. Collector Fritz Daguillard offers a different reading of the picture. As Bacquoy taught art at the Collège de La Marche, which was attended by Isaac and Placide Louverture, he suspects it might have been based on drawings by Toussaint’s sons. (87)

Finally, a painting, quite unlike any of those discussed so far,  suddenly created a minor stir in 2011, some two decades after it had first been sold at Christie’s auction house. Apparently modern yet implausibly attributed to Alexandre Girardin (1767-1848), it was hailed as “the most authoritative image of the celebrated general we now know,” simply because it seemed realistic. (88) Two centuries after his death, the pictorial representation of Toussaint Louverture thus remains as controversial as the interpretation of his life.

List of figures

1) Portrait of Toussaint Louverture wearing a bicorn hat. Unsigned engraving, 11.7 x 7 cm. From Cousin d’Avallon, Histoire de Toussaint-Louverture chef des noirs insurgés de Saint-Domingue (Paris, 1802). John Carter Brown Library.

2) Portrait of Toussaint Louverture wearing a bicorn hat. Unsigned engraving, 17 x 11.3 cm. From Dubroca,Vida de J. J. Dessalines, gefe de los Negros de Santo Domingo (Mexico City, 1806). John Carter Brown Library.

3) Portrait of Toussaint Louverture wearing a bicorn hat. Unsigned engraving, 14.4 x 10.4 cm. From Vita privata politica e militare di Toussaint-Louverture scritta da un uomo del suo colore (Milan, 1802). John Carter Brown Library.

4) Portrait of Toussaint Louverture wearing a bicorn hat. Unsigned engraving, 12.2 x 9.4 cm., from a drawing by J. Sun. From Toussaint-Louverture's frühere Geschichte nach englischen Nachrichten bearbeitet(Fürth, 1802). John Carter Brown Library.

5) Portrait of Toussaint Louverture wearing a bicorn hat. Engraving, 12 x 9.8 cm., by François Bonneville. From Dubroca, La vie de Toussaint-Louverture, chef des noirs insurgés de Saint-Domingue (Paris, 1802). John Carter Brown Library.

6) Equestrian portrait of Toussaint Louverture. Hand-colored, unsigned engraving, 29.2 x 20.7 cm. John Carter Brown Library.

7) Full-length portrait of Toussaint Louverture holding a sword and battle plans. Engraving, 23 x 16.9 cm., by J. Barlow from a sketch by Marcus Rainsford. From Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti: Comprehending a View of the Principal Transactions in the Revolution of Saint Domingo; with Its Antient and Modern State (London, 1805). John Carter Brown Library.

8) Portrait of Toussaint Louverture. Lithograph, 51 x 33 cm., by Nicolas Eustache Maurin. From Iconographie des contemporains depuis 1789 jusqu'à 1829 (Paris, 1838).

9) Equestrian portrait of Toussaint Louverture.   Drawing, pencil and wash, 47 x 37 cm., c.1800-1825, by Denis A. Volozan. Musée d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux.

10) Portrait of Toussaint Louverture holding a telescope. Lithograph, 14 x 10 cm., by Leboiteux from a drawing by Montfayon.From Thomas-Prosper Gragnon-Lacoste, Toussaint-Louverture, général en chef de l'armée de Saint-Domingue, surnommé le premier des noirs (Paris, 1877). University of Florida Library.

11) Full-length portrait of Toussaint Louverture holding a cane, hat, and sword. Drawing by Pierre-Charles Bacquoy, c.1802, location unknown, photographed by Jacques de Cauna.

Copyright by David Geggus.

68. Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti (London: James Cundee, 1805), 252.

69. Cited in Alphonse de Lamartine, Toussaint Louverture: poème dramatique (Paris: Michel Lévy, 1850), xvii-xviii.

70. See above, note 1; Louis Dubroca, Vida de J. J. Dessalines, gefe de los Negros de Santo Domingo (Mexico City: Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1806), following pp. 8, 44.

71. John Kay, A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings. With Biographical Sketches and Illustrative Anecdotes (Edinburgh: A. & C. Black, 1877), 2:478. Along with prints of Napoleon and Tsar Paul, this was almost the only one with a non-British subject in an opus of some 360 engravings.

72. Fritz Daguillard, Mystérieux dans la Gloire: Une exposition commémorant le bicentenaire  de la mort de Toussaint Louverture (Port-au-Prince: MUPANAH, 2003), 12.

73. Grégory Pierrot, "'Our Hero': Toussaint Louverture in British Representations," Criticism 50:4 (2008): 592-596.

74. René Chartrand, Paul Chappell, British Forces in the West Indies, 1793-1815 (London: Osprey, 1996), 8-29. The issue is not clear-cut, however, for it seems the French increasingly issued round hats to their colonial troops during the Revolution contrary to Pierrot’s supposition. See René Chartrand, Napoleon’s Overseas Army (London: Osprey, 1989), 42-43; also the illustrations in Jacques de Cauna, Toussaint Louverture et l’indépendance d’Haïti (Paris: Karthala, 2004), following 128.

75. Rainsford, Memoir of Transactions, 22; Rainsford, Historical Account, 252.

76. “The imminent threat of slave revolution embodied by Toussaint had to be culturally neutralized”: Pierrot, “‘Our Hero,’” 592.  Publishing martial portraits of him and arguing, as did Rainsford, that his forces were unbeatable would seem a strange way of doing this.

77. Iconographie des contemporains depuis 1789 jusqu'à 1829 (Paris: Delpech, 1832), vol. 2. Shown here is the larger 1838 version which includes Maurin’s signature.

78. Saint-Rémy, Vie de Toussaint, front matter. Maurin, born in 1799, could not have been the original artist, as stated in Bell, Toussaint Louverture, 292.

79. Daguillard, Mystérieux dans la Gloire, 11.

80. Marcel Châtillon, Images de la Révolution aux Antilles (Basse-Terre: Société d’Histoire de la Guadeloupe, 1989), [6]; Daguillard, Mystérieux dans la Gloire,18; Jacques de Cauna, “Le Véritable visage de Toussaint-Louverture,” http://www.anneauxdelamemoire.org/en/resources-center/publications-and-conferences/articles-and-new-publications/item/431-le-véritable-visage-de-toussaint-louverture.html (Apr. 2013).

81. David Karel, Dictionnaire des artistes de langue française en Amérique du Nord (Québec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1992), 825; David Sellin, “Denis A. Volozan, Philadelphia Neoclassicist,” Winterthur Portfolio 4 (1968): 118-128.

82. Gragnon-Lacoste, Toussaint-Louverture, front matter. Montfayon entered Toussaint’s service in late 1794.

83. The medallion is reproduced in de Cauna, Toussaint Louverture, following 128. De Cauna (p. 43) states it belonged to Toussaint himself but, as it forms a set with miniatures of his stepson Placide and his French bride, it probably dates from the 1820s.

84. Daguillard, Mystérieux dans la Gloire, 39-40.

85. De Cauna, Toussaint Louverture, 42. It was first published in Jacques de Cauna, Haïti: l’éternelle révolution (Port-au-Prince: Deschamps, 1997), 164-165.

86. De Cauna, “Véritable visage.”

87. Daguillard, Mystérieux dans la Gloire, 11. Daguillard calls the work a drawing; de Cauna, an engraving.

88. Patrick Sylvain, “Is this the authentic face of Toussaint L'Ouverture?” The Boston Haitian Reporter,10 May 2011; Haiti-Liberté, 2/8 November 2011, 9; Jacques de Cauna, “Le Vrai Visage de Toussaint Louverture?” http://www.anneauxdelamemoire.org/fr/component/k2/item/412-le-vrai-visage-de-toussaint-louverture-?.html (Apr. 2013).