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National Museum Cardiff removes portrait of slave-owner Thomas Picton

The painting of Sir Thomas Picton which hung in the National Museum Cardiff was a gift from the Earl of Plymouth in 1907 and before that is believed to have been hung in the Royal Academy in London in 1816.

A portrait of Welsh slave owner Sir Thomas Picton – on display for more than 100 years – labelling him a war hero has been removed from the Faces of Wales gallery at National Museum Cardiff.

The decision to remove the portrait was made as part of Reframing Picton, a youth-led initiative involving Amgueddfa Cymru | National Museums Wales and community partner the Sub Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP).

Tyrannical treatment of black enslaved people

Picton has previously been hailed as a public hero but is equally notorious for his tyrannical treatment of Black enslaved people and free people, and for sanctioning torture during his governance of Trinidad, from 1797-1803. The project team has spent more than a year examining the history and legacy of Picton and his place within the museum and how he has been traditionally remembered.

Another portrait titled ‘Hedger and Ditcher: Portrait of William Lloyd’ will take the place of Picton’s which will be kept in the museum’s stores before being redisplayed and reinterpreted over the coming months.

Kath Davies, Director of Collections and Research at Amgueddfa Cymru, said the project replaces one artwork – which assigns great importance to someone whose actions as Governor of Trinidad even at the time were seen as cruel – with a celebratory portrait of a worker – someone we could today consider to be a hero.

Another important step in examining national collections

Left, the portrait of Thomas Picton, which will be replaced by, right, a portrait of William Lloyd by Dutch artist Albert Houthuesen

“This is another important step for Amgueddfa Cymru in examining our national collections and thinking about who we display in our Faces of Wales gallery and why,” she said.

“Looking ahead, Amgueddfa Cymru will be creating educational resources on the history and achievements of communities experiencing racial inequalities within our society. These will support the recently announced changes to the curriculum by the Welsh Government”

Building a Wales that is inclusive

SSAP director, Fadhili Maghiya, said: “As we aim to build a Wales that is inclusive, built on the foundations of equality and one which focuses on community cohesion and appreciative of the different cultures that exist in our country, we need to celebrate those who are representative of the society we live in. Those individuals should be displayed on the Faces of Wales Gallery.”

As a result of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 scrutiny of memorials to Picton intensified and Cardiff council voted to remove a marble statue of him from its Hall of Heroes at City Hall.

Two new art works

In October 2021, Amgueddfa Cymru announced two new artworks had been commissioned following an open call for artists to reinterpret Picton’s legacy. The new commissions are by Trinidadian and Tobagonian multi-disciplinary artist Gesiye and UK-based Laku Neg, a group of four members of Trinidadian heritage that promotes expressions of African diaspora knowledge through the arts.

When complete, the commissions will become a part of Wales’ national collection and will amplify the voices of those originally neglected in the telling of Picton’s story, and those whose lives are most affected by its legacy.

Picton, who was born in Haverfordwest in 1758, had long been remembered as the highest ranking British officer to fall at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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