A Young Woman, no date
photograph, with a painted decorative background, 45 x 47 cm
Seated Man, no date
photograph, with a painted decorative background, 50 x 60 cm
Following German and Dutch precedent, where paintings made on the back of glass are called Hinterglasmalerei and achterglasschilderij respectively, we have coined the term 'reverse-glass painting'. To speak of 'behind-glass' painting generates ambiguity, and it hardly conveys an idea of the basic technique, which involves work performed on the back of a sheet of glass. (Although 'back-of-glass' removes all ambiguities, it is dreadfully cumbersome.) The term eglomise, widely used by historians of the decorative arts, refers specifically to a technique that involves decorating glass by means of gilding, while the expression 'fixed under glass' refers, of course, to pictures pasted behind or framed under glass.The word 'fixed' is, none the less, frequently encountered in the literature on Senegalese art, and, if its application is often incorrect, it is sometimes partially appropriate in a few early examples where both techniques — painting and pasting — are combined: these examples are chromolithographs or photographs that have been placed behind painted glass. Finally, in Senegal, glass paintings are called suwer, a Wolof word directly borrowed from the French sous-verre (behind or under glass). By extension, suwer is the term that is also used to emphasize the qualities of culinary dishes made with a great variety of ingredients: a ceebu jen (rice with fish) is called ceeb suwer when it is richly decorated and colourful.
© 1994 Prestel-Verlag, Munich and New York and the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren