The National Gallery in London explores its collection’s links to slavery and will then investigate trustees and donors

The National Gallery in London has published the first steps of an investigation into its collection’s historical links to slavery.

Covering links to slavery and abolition through family, marriage or their own actions, the report examines the key figures involved in the growth of the collection, including through bequests and donations. investigators of trustees and donors.

The development is part of a growing effort among UK institutions to be more transparent about their nuanced histories; efforts that have garnered both praise and criticism from the public.

The National Gallery and Legacies of British Slave-Ownership’s ongoing research project in collaboration with the Center for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery (LBS) at University College London (UCL) is gathering information on the relationship of the institution with slavery throughout its history.

“We recognize that our collection has a distinctive and historically rooted character and that we need to tell a larger story,” a National Gallery spokesperson told Artnet News of the project.

You can click on the initial list online, which covers the years 1824 to 1880, to view the works and find out how and by whom they entered the collection. It also includes works “previously owned by, commissioned by, or depicting a slave owner.”

The research project began in 2018 when the institution established an academic partnership with the founder and then director of LBS, Nicholas Draper, to “undertake systematic research on key figures in our history”.

“LBS resources have clarified many links between slave ownership, art collecting, patronage and philanthropy in Britain,” the institution said. According to the website, the first person they looked at was John Julius Angerstein, who sold 38 works to the National Collection in 1824 after making his money by purchasing and negotiating marine insurance partly for the transportation of people. enslaved and products. He also acted as a trustee for areas related to slaves in Granada and Antigua.

The National Gallery was founded in 1824, but the collection of British national art it houses dates back much further. Stage III of the project will cover administrators and donors from 1880 to 1920 and Stage IV will examine owners of images dating back to 1640. To extend this research, the National Gallery is also sponsoring a PhD in collaboration with Birkbeck College, University of London, on “The National Gallery in the ‘Center of Empire’, 1824–1924”, which began in 2021 and is supervised by Susanna Avery-Quash of the National Gallery and Sarah Thomas of Birkbeck.

“We are one of many UK museums and historical collections that strive to make the history and origin of their collections more accessible and transparent,” the institution said.

Some of these projects have sparked public debate. Earlier this year, Britain’s central heritage body, the National Trust, released a controversial brief outlining the links between some of its historic properties and the enslaved trade. The publication sparked a storm among members of the organization and the public, with some members of parliament even weighing in to criticize the institution for its “awakened agenda,” and its chairman Tim Parker subsequently resigned from his post.

There has already been some backlash against the National Gallery’s decision among some more conservative factions of the British media, with the Telegraph calling the list a “room of shame” and Times stating that he has “cast the stigma of slavery on hundreds of paintings” in his collection.

Regarding the possibility of facing backlash for her decision, a National Gallery spokesperson told Artnet News she was prepared to weather the storm. “Dealing with these stories honestly can be difficult, but we are looking for ways to recognize their importance more directly and explicitly, through research, interpretation and debate,” they said.

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About Glenn Gosselin

Glenn Gosselin

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