Willem van Aelst's Still-life: Herring, Cherries and Glassware, which is on display at Kelvingrove, was donated by Cecilia Douglas

Glasgow Life defends painting linked to slavery

Patrick Steel, Issue 113/04, p13, 01.04.2013
Research finds that 13 paintings in Kelvingrove collection were bought with proceeds of slavery
Glasgow Life has defended its decision to display a painting at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum that was bought with money earned from the slave trade.

Research by Glasgow newspaper The Herald found that 13 paintings in Kelvingrove’s collection, one of which is on display, were donated by Cecilia Douglas on her death in 1862. Douglas had been married to a slaveowner and after his death used his fortune to build the collection of paintings.

Following the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, Douglas received £3,013 (the equivalent of about £150,000 today), in compensation payments from the British government for her share of 231 slaves on the Caribbean island of St Vincent.

A spokesman for Glasgow Life said: “Like every other major museum service, Glasgow’s collection contains items that were donated to the city and may have been purchased through the proceeds of slavery.

“The collection reflects the whole history of the city and doesn’t airbrush the mistakes of the past.”

The source of The Herald’s research was a database of records collated by University College London, Legacies of British Slave-ownership, which launched last month.

The records have revealed links between the slave trade and institutions such as the British Museum, National Gallery, Royal Academy and Pitt Rivers Museum.

Catherine Hall, a professor at University College London who helped to establish the database, said: “The fabric of modern Britain is significantly affected by the slave trade.

“I would never say that museums were built on the slave trade, but the collections of the wealthy sometimes include that wealth.

“It’s important that people know that and that the provenance [of objects and paintings in museums] is transparent.

“If museums discover information about the provenance, then that should be included.”