Original drawing captioned "M le curé d'Agana en petit negligé" FREYCINET: URANIE VOYAGE, Jacques ARAGO.

Original drawing "M le curé d'Agana en petit negligé".
Original drawing captioned "M le curé d'Agana en petit negligé".

Guam: 1819.

Original ink drawing, 310 x 245 mm., fully signed and dated, framed.

The priest of Guam takes his ease during the Freycinet visit

Jacques Arago, artist on board Freycinet's Uranie during the French circumnavigation of 1817-20, drew this intimate portrait of brother Ciriaco, the curé in Agana, the capital of Guam, during the visit there of the Uranie expedition between March and June 1819. This is a charming and unusual portrait of a figure who likely expected to be taken more seriously: the cleric is shown in his "at home" attire, his petit negligé, smoking. His relaxed stance, dressed in a vest and daringly striped leggings is further enriched by the addition of the most delicate slippers.

Jacques Arago, artist on board Freycinet's Uranie during the French circumnavigation of 1817-20, drew this intimate portrait of brother Ciriaco, the curé in Agana, the capital of Guam, during the visit there of the Uranie expedition between March and June 1819. This is a charming and unusual portrait of a figure who likely expected to be taken more seriously: the cleric is shown in his "at home" attire, his petit negligé, smoking. His relaxed stance, dressed in a vest and daringly striped leggings is further enriched by the addition of the most delicate slippers.

Arago (1790-1855) was not only the most accomplished of the artists who made the voyage aboard the Uranie, but was one of the most intriguing of the early travellers. The wonders of the long expedition stayed with him for the rest of his life, and he continued writing and drawing about the Pacific right up until he lost his sight. In 1822 he published his own well-regarded account of the voyage, Promenade Autour du Monde, which was published in an English version in 1823. Over the ensuing decades he wrote many more differing versions of this interesting account.

The Freycinet expedition stayed for a long time in Agana where they were well received by the Spanish Governor Don Jose Medinilla. Agana (modern Hagåtña) is the capital of Guam and thus the westernmost state or territorial city of the United States, despite its modern population numbering only about a thousand.

As several of the Uranie crew had recently died from dysentery, Louis de Freycinet took this opportunity to rest his men for several months. Here in the Marianas the Spanish missionaries were both powerful and respected and the sailors were required to attend holy week services. Arago was particularly known for his lively and arresting images of the people he encountered, with a distinct preference for the unusual or the grotesque. Whether the priest knew that Arago was drawing him at this intimate moment is not known, but it seems more likely that Arago captured this image surreptitiously, and certainly the satirical tone of the caption - with its reference to the curé and his very informal attire - suggests that this delightful vision of the priest off his guard was not meant to be shared.

Although unpublished, though fully signed and dated, the drawing remained in the archives of Louis de Freycinet and his descendants, which perhaps indicates that it was at least considered for publication in the massive official account of the voyage.

Arago's textual description

See our stock of work by Jacques Arago here:

https://www.hordern.com/advSearchResults.php?orderBy=datePubAsc&action=search&authorField=arago%2C+jacques&cat_conj=or

In his own books Arago writes at some length (various versions and editions including Voyage autour du Monde, Paris, 1840, vol. II pp. 141-5) and more briefly in his English version (Narrative of a Voyage Round the World, in the Uranie... commanded by Captain Freycinet..., London, 1823, pp. 248-50) about the primitive state of religion in the Marianas and the notably pragmatic approach to questions of morality in Agana. He singles out the curé, friar Ciriaco:

"Nowhere, perhaps, is there so much and so little religion as at Guam. The women bestow their favours for a rosary. The men do not blush to offer you a sister, or some other of their relations, and will immediately after prostrate themselves at the foot of the altar. In the churches the two sexes are separate; and if you see few girls without a veil, you also see few men gaze at them. In church the people behave like Christians; in the city, and in the country, like savages.

"Here, as in Spain, the husbands are very jealous of their wives; lovers, of their mistresses : but, these excepted, you may pay your court, if you please, to their sisters and friends; what is it to them? What is not appropriated to themselves is no concern of theirs: and you will find men shameless enough to offer you, as soon as you enter their houses, one of their relations, for fear you should cast an eye on their wives. At the same time, you may be assured, that if you please the wife you will not long sigh in vain.

"We should be astonished at the prodigious number of processions and religious ceremonies, with which the people are amused at Guam, if we were not aware, that the zeal of devotees, and even the carelessness of the indifferent, are beneficial to the church, and particularly to the priest, who takes advantage of every thing. Collections are made at the houses; requisitions are ordered; and there are few of the inhabitants who can escape that sort of tax. Such as have no money, of which there is very little in the settlement, provide fruit, vegetables, and meat, to fill the stores of the priest, who probably distributes a considerable portion among the poor… … … But I saw no poor at Guam!

"I imagined the processions would cease when Lent was over, and that the people would have a few days respite. By no means: they went on more sedulously than ever: and, all things considered, these poor people, to whom the church prescribes rest or prohibits labour half the week, are not so much to blame for devoting three-fourths of their lives to idleness. Is it not even from excess of zeal that the land is so neglected? I cannot tell, but I fear I was too severe in my first conjectures. Let me be more circumspect in future.

[…]

"It is truly painful to see a people, who might so easily be guided aright, given-up to the darkness in which they are enveloped, and even in the present day adopting, with blind confidence, the absurd narratives of pretended daily miracles with which they are amused every hour of the day. Our learned Abbé de Quelen, whose paternal cares are not confined to the instruction of the crew, with whom he has made so long a voyage, has had many conversations with the priest of Agagna; and he is convinced that the poor man can scarcely instruct his flock in the simplest lessons of the catechism, as he is himself ignorant of the fundamental principles of our religion. As to Latin, which he told us he had studied from his earliest infancy, under the ablest professors at Manilla, our chaplain, who speaks it with the greatest fluency, could scarcely make him understand a few words, by turning and varying his phrases: and for my own part, I am convinced, that as long as such pastors as friar Ciriaco arc sent to the Marianne islands, religion will be little honoured there, and the morals of the people will not be in the slightest degree improved".

Provenance: Until the 1960s in Freycinet family ownership, subsequently in a private collection.

Condition Report: In fine original condition.

Price (AUD): $11,000.00

US$8,463.80   Other currencies

Ref: #4504053

Condition Report