A portrait of Thomas Picton, the 18th-century Welsh military leader who became notorious for the cruelty of his reign as governor of Trinidad, has been taken down from the Faces of Wales gallery in Genedlaethol Caerdydd – National Museum Cardiff.
The painting has been removed as part of the youth-led Reframing Picton project involving Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and community partner the Sub Saharan Advisory Panel. It will be kept in the museum’s stores until it is reinterpreted and redisplayed in the coming months.
Born in Pembrokeshire in 1758, Picton was hailed as a public hero after his death fighting in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. However he was also known for the brutality of his governorship of the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where he sanctioned the torture of free and enslaved Black people. Picton was tried in England for the illegal torture of a 14-year-old girl, Luisa Calderón, but later had his conviction overturned.
The project team has spent more than a year examining the history and legacy of Picton, his place within the museum and how he has been traditionally remembered.
The decision to remove the portrait was the subject of a social media row earlier this week when Welsh broadcaster Huw Edwards tweeted that he felt “uneasy” about the painting being taken down.
In response, Amgueddfa Cymru tweeted: "Hi Huw - the portrait is being removed temporarily and will be back on display in the coming months. The redisplay will include more about Picton's history - the good and the bad."
Edwards later accepted an invitation to visit the museum to "discuss the best way of making sure Picton's use of torture and slavery is not forgotten".
Another portrait, Hedger and Ditcher: Portrait of William Lloyd, will take the place of Picton’s. The portrait was painted by Dutch artist Albert Houthuesen who painted grand scale portraits of the colliers in Trelogan, Flintshire after becoming fascinated by their work while on holiday in the area in the 1930s.
Kath Davies, director of collections and research at Amgueddfa Cymru said: “This is another important step for Amgueddfa Cymru in examining our national collections and thinking about who we display in our 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.
“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.”
Fadhili Maghiya, director of the Sub Sahara Advisory Panel said: “As we aim to build a Wales that is inclusive, built on the foundations of equality and one which focuses on community cohesion and appreciative of the different cultures that exist in our country, we 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 that 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 artists of Trinidadian heritage.
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