The narrative is what transforms the world. The true paragraphs. It is quite relevant that a country so anchored in its national pride, such as England, is investigating the slave-owning past attached to the National Gallery. What donors, patrons, portraits, companies and collectors took advantage of the slave trade to create the funds? The investigation even looks at donations of parts. And it spans from 1640 (although the museum was created in 1824) to 1920. It will be studied in stages – the most important period is between 1824 and 1880 – and will scrutinize some 67 patrons, donors and portrayers who made a fortune with a business that deals with man like a dunghill. “It is a way of better understanding the origin of the works that make up our public collections [el Banco de Inglaterra, la Iglesia y la monarquía tienen aún pendiente justificar su implicación en estos crímenes contra la humanidad]”, He reflects to The weekly country in the only statements that Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, has personally granted. He adds: “We are one of the first museums, along with Tate, to investigate this matter. It is a current issue that interests the academic world and also the public ”.
Society will never admit to looking down. Not in the era of Black Lives Matter. The research began in 2018 – two years before the American outbreak – and the first published part of the study already points to names. Above all, John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823), whose 38 Old Master paintings, sold to the Government, formed part of the initial core of the collection. Between 1824 and 1880 they have discovered at least 67 patrons and donors involved, along with important painters, for example, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), the most prestigious English portraitist at the end of the 18th century.
Angerstein amassed an immense fortune by insuring slave ships for Lloyd’s of London. The exact number is unknown. “We deeply regret Lloyd’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade,” the insurer wrote by email. “It is part of our shared history that caused enormous suffering and continues to negatively impact black communities and ethnic minorities today,” he continues.
It is a journey over the embers of history and it burns. Although the destination is uncertain. “The majority [de los ingleses] is unaware of this issue. And many will be surprised, ”observes Hakim Adi, Professor of African History at the University of Chichester. Despite going in the right direction: “It is too late,” he says. The conservative press has caught fire fast. The Daily Telegraph call the list “the hall of shame” and The Times criticizes “throwing the stigma of slavery on hundreds of paintings.”
The damage continues to shed leaves from the almanac of the past. “Slavery is a very hot liberal issue. It’s easy to evoke that hindsight guilt. But how many of those protesting are involved in the fight against modern day slavery, which is a huge stain on society. It’s easy to join from the armchair, ”criticizes Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of Art History at Oxford. Of course, the works are not “guilty” of those who were their owners or are today. However, the public must know what that old painting reflects. Because too many are not mirrors of redemption.