Museums given last chance to buy first British portrait of a freed slave
26 March 2010
Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, has placed a temporary export bar on a fascinating portrait of a freed slave by the eighteenth-century British artist William Hoare of Bath. This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo in the United Kingdom.
The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the portrait is of outstanding aesthetic importance, and also of outstanding significance for the study of both the development of non-European portraiture in Britain, and the history of the slave trade.
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (c. 1702-72), also known as Job ben Solomon, was an important figure in the history of the early transatlantic trade in slaves. A wealthy, well-educated Muslim from the Fulbe tribe in present-day Senegal, West Africa, Diallo’s involvement in selling slaves to European traders backfired when he was himself captured and sent to work on a tobacco plantation in Maryland. His high-born status enabled him to escape captivity and travel to England, where he was released from slavery through money raised by public subscription. He developed celebrity status amongst the elite of London society, mixing with aristocrats and even being presented at court. After a short time in England, Diallo entered the services of the Royal African Company and returned to Africa on the understanding that, in return for his redemption, he would further English interests there. Once home he was able to return to his previous lifestyle, which included owning household slaves.
Diallo’s memoirs were published in Thomas Bluett's Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, which had a profound impact on Britain’s understanding of West African culture, identity and religion. Despite being a slave-owner and trader himself, he was upheld by English abolitionists as an argument for the humane treatment of Africans.
William Hoare’s painting of Diallo is the earliest British portrait of a freed slave that has so far been identified. The sitter is depicted in the conventions of European portraiture but wearing his native dress and with a Qur’an hanging from a ribbon around his neck. Portraits of black Africans were rare at this time, and those that do exist usually portray their subjects as anonymous exotica, accessories to enhance the status of their European owners. By contrast, Diallo is presented as an individual and an equal, whose dignity, gentleness and intelligence shine out from the canvas.
Lord Inglewood, Chairman of the Reviewing Committee, said: “This is a beautiful and sensitive portrait of an engaging personality. As well as being important for the study of non-European portraiture in Britain, it also illustrates the complexities of the issues surrounding the slave trade and Britain’s role in it.”
The decision on the export licence application for the portrait will be deferred for a period ending on 25 May inclusive. This period may be extended until 25 August inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the portrait at the recommended price of £554,937.50 is expressed.
Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the portrait should contact the owner’s agent through:
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen’s Gate
London SW7 5HD
Telephone 020 7273 8270
Notes to Editors
- For all media enquiries please contact Senior Media Relations Adviser, Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email: email@example.com
- For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact Frances Wilson, RCEWA Secretary, on 020 7273 8270, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.
- The details of the portrait are:
- William Hoare (c.1702-72)
- Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, called Job ben Solomon (1701-73), half-length, in African dress, with the Qur'an around his neck, in a feigned oval
- oil on canvas
- 762 x 642 mm
- Further details about the portrait can be found in the Christie’s auction catalogue for Lot 20, Sale 7782 on 8 December 2009.
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