Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California

Jules Tavernier American, born France

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 760

In the 1870s, French-born and -trained artist Jules Tavernier settled in San Francisco, where he received his most important commission from Tiburcio Parrott, the city’s leading banker. During an 1876 visit from his Parisian business partner Baron Edmond de Rothschild and the baron’s traveling companion Count Gabriel Louis de Turenne, Parrott was able to obtain entry to a ceremonial dance of the Elem Pomo known as the mfom Xe (people dance) in an underground Xe-xwan (roundhouse) at Clear Lake, California.

Tavernier spent two years working on this tour de force, a composition with nearly one hundred figures, including Elem Pomo dancers and musicians as well as non-Native onlookers, notably Parrott, Rothschild, and Turenne. He rendered the dimly lit interior—its circular shape symbolic of the life-sustaining form of a basket—with brilliant technical finesse. While the painting suggests the rich vitality of Elem Pomo culture, it also exposes the threat posed by White settlers, including Parrott, who was then operating a toxic mercury mine on the Elem Pomo’s ancestral homelands. Designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1990, the mine continues to pollute the land and water of the present-day Elem Indian Colony, where the community resiliently sustains their cultural practices and ceremonies, including the mfom Xe and the Xe-xwan.

Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California, Jules Tavernier (American (born France), Paris 1844–1889 Honolulu, Hawaii), Oil on canvas, American

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