Celebrating Jamaica at 50

Ready, Set....Bolt!

The aptly named Jamaican runner, Usain Bolt, has electrified the London summer games, becoming the first man to defend an Olympic sprint title in the 100m since Carl Lewis in 1988. The Jamaican running tradition began at the 1948 London games, when "gentle giant" Arthur Wint became the first Jamaican to win Olympic gold. Wint beat out his teammate in the 400m and also won a silver in the 800m event. During the 1952 Helsinki games, the Jamaican team really exploded, finishing 13th in total medals. In the mid-60s, Una Morris and Carmen Smith became the country's first female stars. The most prolific of Jamaica's runners - male or female, Merlene Ottey, competed in seven games between 1980 and 2004. Although gold was elusive for Ottey (she lost in '96 to Gail Devers in the closest Olympics 100m in history), she was nicknamed "Bronze Queen" because of her many second and third place finishes in competitions.

Arthur Wint of Jamaica winning the Gold Medal for the 400m race at the 1948 London Olympic Games/ Private Collection
Arthur Wint of Jamaica winning the Gold Medal for the 400m race at the 1948 London Olympic Games/ Private Collection

Tambourine Chorus, 1989 (oil on canvas) by Bernard Hoyes (Contemporary Artist)
Tambourine Chorus, 1989 (oil on canvas) by Bernard Hoyes (Contemporary Artist)

Contemporary Art

Bridgeman represents several Jamaican-born contemporary artists. Bernard Hoyes (image, left) is new to the archive. Steeped in Jamaican Revivalism, his works are deeply spiritual. Earlier this month, Hoyes's works were part of an interdisciplinary performance for LA's Ford 2012 Dance Series and his works could be seen in the Getty initiative, Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA from 1945-1980.

We've recently uploaded new material from Tamara Natalie Madden, whose painting style is inspired by Klimt's gilded portraits. Madden is skilled at representing regular people as royalty. Madden says that her art is a reflection of her personality - "vivid and bouyant."

Ikahl Beckford was born in Jamaica, but now makes New York his home. His love of music is a constant theme in his vibrant mixed media works.

View a lightbox of highlights from all three artists.

Jammin (oil on board) by Ikahl Beckford (Contemporary Artist)
Jammin (oil on board) by Ikahl Beckford (Contemporary Artist)

Earth Queen (acrylic & mixed media on canvas) by Tamara Natalie Madden (Contemporary Artist)
Earth Queen (acrylic & mixed media on canvas) by Tamara Natalie Madden (Contemporary Artist)

(detail) Two Jamaican Girls, 1937 (oil on canvas) by Augustus Edwin John / Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool
(detail) Two Jamaican Girls, 1937 (oil on canvas) by Augustus Edwin John / Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool

A Bit of History

Discovered by Columbus in 1494, settled by the Spanish in 1509 and conquered by the English in 1655, the Caribbean island's final push for indpendence lasted over 100 years. Under English rule, the island was a haven for buccaneers and pirates, most notably Captain Henry Morgan. Prized for its coffee and sugar production, the island was a major stop for the Atlantic slave trade until it was abolished in 1834. After abolition, life didn't improve much for former African slaves due to the cruel apprenticeship system. The growth of a solid middle class didn't happen until the country became a crown colony of Britain in 1886. The first free election was in 1944, after a revolt during the Great Depression led to an organized labor movement and a competitive party system.

The Bridgeman archive has a wealth of material from Jamaica's colonial history including illustrations of folk art costumes, vintage photography, European paintings of the island's people and vistas and lithographs and engravings of important events and people. View a lightbox of selected images from the archive.

A country school, Jamaica, 1908-09 (b/w photo) by Harry Hamilton Johnston / Royal Geographical Society, London
A country school, Jamaica, 1908-09 (b/w photo) by Harry Hamilton Johnston / Royal Geographical Society, London

Red-Set Girls and Jack-in-the-Green, from 'Sketches of Character', 1838 by Isaac Mendes Belisario / Yale Center for British Art
Red-Set Girls and Jack-in-the-Green, from 'Sketches of Character', 1838 by Isaac Mendes Belisario / Yale Center for British Art


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