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date: 07 April 2020

Visual arts 1: Representations of Blacks.locked

  • Leslie Primo

Extract

By the mid‐18th century Britain was at the height of its power and wealth, profiting from its leading role in the lucrative slave trade. Some of the great patrons of the age, like William Beckford and his son, were heavily involved in slavery, owning plantations in the West Indies. During this time black people found themselves represented mostly as servants in the households of the wealthy. Not only were they anonymous figures, but they had no control over how they were portrayed. There were of course notable exceptions, paintings in which the black sitter is afforded a measure of dignity that suggests a degree of respect and recognition as a fellow human being. The painting attributed to Joshua Reynolds (1723–92) titled Study of a Black Man (c.1770 is one such example The picture may be a portrait of one of Reynolds s own black servants ...

A version of this article originally appeared in The Oxford Companion to Black British History.

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