Our cover this month, “Eleuthera” (48 in. by 26.6 in.) by Alex Katz, sold for $5,625 at Phillips New York’s recent Editions Day sale on April 29, 2013. A popular vacation destination, Eleuthera is a long, thin (only a mile wide in places) island in the Bahamas. It’s known for its pink sandy beaches and the quality of its pineapples.
However, despite its serene appearance, Eleuthera has a rocky history. The Spanish discovered the Bahamas in 1492, though Eleuthera was originally inhabited by the Taino, a subset of the larger Aranak ethnic group indigenous to the West Indies. Viewing the Bahamas as of little use other than as a source of slave labor, the Spanish rapidly deported the majority of the indigenous people to work mines in other parts of the Caribbean, mostly Hispaniola. The population was wiped out completely by 1550, and the island remained uninhabited for nearly 100 years.
The island’s resurrection began in 1648 when it was settled by a group of European Puritans from Bermuda who deemed themselves the “Eleutherian adventurers,” a moniker they passed on to the island itself. Eleuthera prospered from there, establishing itself as an up-scale vacation destination and experiencing a particular boom period from 1950–1970, which casts some light on why Katz, who famously loved to depict stylish New Yorkers at play, chose it as a subject.