Twitter user uncovers striking similarities between her work and an 1840 painting

By Diane Herbst
June 16, 2015 04:15 PM
Anthony Quintano/NBC/Reuters/Landov

Rachel Dolezal, the white woman and former NAACP president who has masqueraded as black, writes on her blog that she is “an award-winning Mixed Media Artist.”

Now “plagiarizer” could be added to her résumé, after Twitter users revealed striking similarities between one of Dolezal’s acrylic paintings – The Shape of Our Kind – with J.M.W. Turner’s The Slave Ship.

The Twittersphere blew up when @jCLAJR Tweeted on June 13: “#RachelDolezal appropriates art too,” followed the next day by the more widely seen tweet from @jolieishere that read: “Rachel Dolezal’s painting The Shape of Our Kind is a near duplicate of J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 The Slave Ship.” Both Tweets included an image of the paintings side by side.

Thousands of shares and a plethora of comments questioning Dolezal’s veracity quickly followed.

On Dolezal’s page she describes The Shape of Our Kind as “an acrylic painting on a wooden panel; the original is 36″x36″ and is part of a three-panel triptych representing absence, loss, and closure in relationships.” The original is priced at $5,100, down from $7,800.

According to descriptions accompanying her images on her blog and ArtPal page, Dolezal writes that she works with eggshells, acrylic paint, oil paint, oil pastels and charcoal. Most of the works are depictions of brown-skinned children and adults.

Her imagination – as well as distortion of facts – comes through in her work and her descriptions of it.

In a 2012 interview about her art, Dolezal told Couer d’Alene Living magazine that she was born in a teepee in Montana – a claim denied by her parents – and that she began creatively expressing herself at the age of 4.

In a Today show interview, she said she started identifying as black around the age of 5.

“I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon, and black curly hair,” she told host Matt Lauer.

But her memory seems to be unreliable.

For example, in My Place, she describes the model used for an image of a brown-skinned girl on a wooden panel as a “model in South Africa, posing in the bright sunlight (original photo taken in Cape Town where my family lived for 5 years)…”

Dolezal has claimed that she lived in South Africa, but her parents have denied she ever lived there with them.

In her ArtPal bio, Dolezal writes she “has begun Pre-Medical studies, working toward an MD and a residency in trauma surgery.”

Dolezal received fine arts training at the historically black Howard University, earning an MFA in 2002. While there, she lived as a white woman with naturally blond hair and blue eyes.

She ended up suing the school for racial discrimination, in a suit that was ultimately dismissed, according to court documents uncovered by The Smoking Gun.

Two of Dolezal’s works have been for sale on eBay with a starting price of $5,000.

The sales pitch by the seller? “Own a Piece of History!”