Portrait of Picton to be removed from National Museum Wales gallery and ‘reinterpreted’
A portrait of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton has been taken down from the Faces of Wales gallery at National Museum Cardiff and will be kept in the Museum’s stores before being redisplayed and reinterpreted over the coming months.
The decision to remove the portrait was made as part of Reframing Picton, which is a youth-led initiative involving Amgueddfa Cymru and community partner the Sub Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP).
Picton has previously been hailed as a public hero but is equally notorious for his cruel treatment of Black enslaved people and free people, and for sanctioning torture during his governance of Trinidad, from 1797-1803.
Since last year’s Black Lives Matter protests drew attention to the public commemoration of figures involved in colonialism and the slave trade, the project team have been examining the history and legacy of Picton and his place within the Museum and how he has been traditionally remembered.
Kath Davies, Director of Collections and Research at Amgueddfa Cymru said that it was “another important step” for Amgueddfa Cymru in examining their national collections and thinking about who they displayed in their Faces of Wales gallery and why.
“This 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,” 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.”
Cardiff council voted to remove a statue of Picton from the City Hall in July of last year.
Councillors last summer said the statue was an “affront” to black people in Cardiff and was “no longer acceptable” to keep in City Hall. After the vote last year, carpenters put a wooden box around the statue. However, the statue remains there today.
The portrait of Piction in the National Museum will however be removed and replaced with another portrait titled ‘Hedger and Ditcher: Portrait of William Lloyd’.
The portrait was painted by Dutch artist Albert Houthuesen who was fascinated with the working life of the colliers in Trelogan, Flintshire whilst on holiday in the area with his wife in the 1930s.
Fadhili Maghiya, Director of the Sub Sahara Advisory Panel said the aim was to build an “inclusive” Wales, “built on the foundations of equality and one which focuses on community cohesion and appreciative of the different cultures that exist in our country”.
She said that there was a need to “celebrate those who are representative of the society we live in. Those individuals should be displayed on the Faces of Wales Gallery”.
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.
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Cardiff Council focusing on the big issues as ever.
I’m sure you wouldn’t be complaining if councils and museums were taking down portraits and statues celebrating Jimmy Saville’s charitable fundraising. That’s the risk of putting people up on pedestals and giving them honours and awards. We can’t just continue to celebrate the good deeds and whitewash the abuse when it comes to light.
They could redisplay the portraits and statues of Savile but put a plaque with a reinterpretation of his fundraising alongside them.
Also, we could send a committee to sub-Saharan Africa and re-evaluate any celebrated former heroes on display there.
What is it with the British celebrating slavers, murderers, rapists and pedos?
We’ve got our own history of doing that in Wales. Why does it matter to you, anyway, Saes?
All statues in Wales should be taken down regardless of who they are.
I remember reading of Lunacharsky anxiously defending monuments against Bolshevik extremists. Putin has recently said of the West, “we have been here before, starting with Bolshevik cancel culture, and trying to destroy thousands of years of history but they are going even further than the Bolsheviks. We are keeping out of it”.
Entirely the right decision to remove the painting. I don’t advocate destroying it and erasing history. All museums have a stockpile of artifacts that are not displayed. This one should join them in favour of something more worthy unless and until a way can be found to re-contextualise Picton as the monster he seems to have been.
Wasn’t he the highest ranked British officer to die at Waterloo? Perhaps, we’re it not for him, you’d be speaking French?
Or we’d be speaking Cymraeg.
Impossible to say either way.