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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

Unknown Maker
The Bare Knuckle Fighters, Tom Cribb and Tom Molineaux
c. 1811–15, Staffordshire County, England
Lead-glazed earthenware with polychrome decoration

Tom Cribb: 8 1/4 x 3 3/4 x 4 3/4 inches; Tom Molineaux: 8 3/8 x 3 3/4 x 4 5/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection, Museum purchase funded by Alan Blackburn, William R. Camp, Jr., Alfred Deaton, Frank J. Hevrdejs, Ralph Thomas and J. Virgil Waggoner in honor of William J. Hill at "One Great Night in November, 1995"

Arts of Europe

Tom Molineaux’s story is legendary, full of triumphs and defeats. Born a slave in the United States during the late 1700s, Molineaux gained his freedom after years of boxing in tournaments for his owner. A brash, talented fighter, Molineaux traveled to England to challenge the greatest boxer of the day, Tom Cribb.

After winning several fights against boxers in England, Molineaux represented a challenge to British society. Could a black man—and an American at that—defeat the most powerful English athlete of the age? The image of black defeating white, whether in the ring or on the plantation, was a terrifying one for white men across the Atlantic world.

In the end, after 40 rounds, Molineaux yielded to Cribb, and Molineaux eventually spiraled into a depression that led to his early death. The figurine of Molineaux, pictured here on the right, shows him in the midst of those many rounds that took place on a rainy December day in 1810. In a solid stance with his bare knuckles ready to strike, Molineaux is confident and capable.

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