Gallery appeals for first UK portrait of freed slave

Wed Jul 7, 2010 7:42am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The National Portrait Gallery in London launched an appeal on Wednesday to raise 100,000 pounds ($150,000) to complete the purchase of the earliest known British oil painting of a freed slave.

The depiction of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, who lived from 1701 to 1773, was sold at auction at Christie's in December but is under a temporary export bar to give the gallery time to try to raise the funds needed to keep it in the country.

The total required by the deadline of August 25 is around 555,000 pounds, and the majority has already been secured with grants from the Art Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund.

The subject of the painting was a Muslim slave born in Gambia who was captured aged 29 and transported to America to work on a plantation.

He was imprisoned for trying to escape, but made it to England with the help of a sympathetic lawyer. Diallo was presented to leading aristocrats and scholars during his stay and was encouraged to sit for the 1733 portrait.

Artist William Hoare portrays Diallo wearing his traditional dress and a copy of the Koran around his neck.

The National Portrait Gallery called it "the first portrait that honors a named African subject as an individual and an equal."

Broadcaster and National Portrait Gallery Trustee Zeinab Badawi said the picture was important "for its representation of Britain's diverse cultural heritage."

It is on display at the gallery until July 30 and donations can be made via the gallery's website

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White)