National Gallery reveals masterpieces’ links to slave trade after three-year audit

Prince Charles and Camilla visit National Gallery in London

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For three years, staff have carried out an audit to identify artworks that may have been owned by, or were painted by, anyone with links to slavery. So far, they have covered paintings the gallery acquired between 1824 and 1880 – resulting in many favourites being tarnished.

British masterpieces by the likes of Constable, Gainsborough and Hogarth have fallen under the spotlight, along with works by Renaissance greats Raphael, Titian and Botticelli, whose Mystic Nativity was once possessed by William Ottley, who owned 17 slaves in Antigua.

Raphael’s Pope Julius II was bought from the collection of John Angerstein, who insured slave-transporting ships.

Dutch master Rembrandt’s Self-portrait At The Age Of 63 was bought from George Brodrick, who came from a slave-owning family.

The gallery says the project aims to “find out what links to slave ownership can be traced with the gallery and to what extent the profits from plantation slavery impacted our early history”, reports Daily Mail.

Labels beside the paintings have been updated to state these links.

Researchers found that John Constable’s famous work, The Hay Wain, was donated to the gallery by Edmund Higginson, who inherited money from an uncle who traded goods made by slaves in South Carolina.

Constable’s The Cornfield was presented to the gallery in 1837 by several patrons including poet William Wordsworth, who once lived in a house in Dorset owned by a plantation holder.

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Titian’s An Allegory of Prudence was once owned by the Rothschild family, whose 19th-century global businesses brought them into connection with slave owners.

But the family also arranged the £15million loan that allowed the government to compensate plantation owners and abolish slavery in 1833.

Hannah Rothschild was recently chairman of the gallery’s board of trustees.

A gallery spokesman said: “The data aims as far as is possible to present objectively, facts relevant to the long and complex history of the transatlantic slave trade. From the information provided, users will be able to determine for themselves the nature and extent of these connections.”

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