A report by Lilly Edwards for Click Liverpool.
The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool has been awarded a significant grant to support the acquisition of its first painting to depict the powerful and resonant iconography of abolition.
The £50,000 used to acquire ‘Am Not I A Man and a Brother’, a painting dating from around 1800, is the result of a joint funding effort, made possible through a generous grant award by Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme.
The painting’s dominant motif is that of an enslaved African, kneeling, bound in chains and set against the backdrop of a Caribbean sugar plantation. It is based on a design commissioned by the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade on 5 July 1787, and is considered to be one of the first instances of a logo designed for a political cause, and used famously by the potter Josiah Wedgwood.
A significant acquisition for the UK, it is only the second known painting to exist featuring this motif – the only other being ‘The Kneeling Slave’ at the Wilberforce House Museum in Hull.
Stephen Carl-Lokko, Curator, International Slavery Museum said: “This acquisition represents the first painting ever to be acquired by National Museums Liverpool to depict the powerful and resonant iconography of abolition and we are very pleased to add it to our collection.
“Resistance is a key part of the history we bring to life in the International Slavery Museum and abolition is a very important part of this wider narrative.
“The painting is a remarkable surviving product of the early phase of the British movement to abolish the Transatlantic Slave Trade during the 18th and 19th century.”
Following restoration and cleaning work to be carried out on the painting, it will go on display in the International Slavery Museum towards the end of 2018.
The painting was in a private collection previously.
Stephen Deuchar, Director, Art Fund said: “We are proud to be able to support the International Slavery Museum in acquiring this fascinating version of an iconic image. It will undoubtedly enrich the museum’s narrative around abolition and its important place in British history.”
The painting is another acquisition the International Slavery Museum has announced under the Transatlantic and Contemporary Slavery Collecting Project, part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme. Previous announcements under this project have included the acquisition of, a copper engraving by the famous British caricaturist James Gillray and the first example of an account by a female anti-slavery campaigner, into the Museum’s collection.
Am Not I a Man and a Brother is one of several iconic paintings relating to all aspects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, that are now part of the collection at National Museums Liverpool, including The Hunted Slaves by Richard Ansell and The Black Boy by William Windus, both on display at the International Slavery Museum and a 1768 portrait of Liverpool merchant Richard Gildart by Joseph Wright of Derby at the Walker Art Gallery.
The first painting to depict the theme of abolition at the International Slavery Museum, Am Not I a Man and a Brotheris also part of a wider collection of objects and documents exploring abolition, including a porcelain sugar bowl from 1820-30 inscribed ‘East India Sugar. The produce of Free Labour’ and a 1793 edition of the autobiography of the famous Black anti-slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano.
The International Slavery Museum highlights the international importance of enslavement and slavery, both in a historic and modern context. Working in partnership with other organisations with a focus on freedom and enslavement, the Museum provides opportunities for greater awareness and understanding of the legacies of enslavement today.
To learn more about Collecting Cultures, please visit our website or contact us at www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/collectingcultures