National Gallery Research Finds Figures Connected to the Slave Trade and Abolition

The research was conducted to find out "to what extent the profits from plantation slavery impacted our early history," the museum said.

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square on 20th October 2021 in London. Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images

It’s no surprise that artistic institutions in the U.K. have deep ties to the slave trade, but according to new reports, a new study conducted by the National Gallery has revealed that 67 figures either directly or tangentially connected to the museum in some way had links to the slave trade. The museum is essentially defining links to the slave trade as direct; as in a portrait being painted of a slave owner, or more incidental, wherein a financial exchange might be made with a collector with stakes in the slave trade.

For example, George Byng, one such person that the National Gallery conducted research on, was the former owner of a painting that was subsequently purchased by the museum and the owner by marriage of a property on which slaves lived. “He left his property, including the enslaved people, in trust to his sister Sarah to be sold for the benefit of his children,” the museum’s research reads. “Our project has started to find out about what links to slave-ownership can be traced within the gallery, and to what extent the profits from plantation slavery impacted our early history,” the National Gallery continued.

Other figures in the National Gallery’s research were found to have contributed to abolition efforts. James Forbes, a donor to the museum, wrote in a letter about how the origins of the practice of slavery could be tied “to European avarice: the ‘insatiable thirst of Europeans’ for gold and diamonds.”

Another trustee, Thomas Spring Rice, supported the ministerial plan for the abolition of slavery and was noted in writing as having had “a lifelong attachment to the anti-slavery movement.” Of course, many other institutions in the U.K. Have similar legacies. The former director of the British Museum recently weighed in on whether problematic art tied to colonialism should be retained or explained.

National Gallery Research Finds Figures Connected to the Slave Trade and Abolition