LONDON.- The National Portrait Gallery
today launches, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Art Fund, an appeal to acquire for the nation the earliest known British oil painting of a freed slave, and the first portrait that honours a named African subject as an individual and an equal.
Never before seen in public, and currently on temporary display at the Gallery, this portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (c.1701-73) (known when he was in England as Job ben Solomon), shows the sitter painted in 1733 in his traditional dress wearing his copy of the Quran around his neck.
The portrait, from a private collection, was sold at auction in Christies in December, and is now under a temporary export bar. The Gallery needs to raise £554,937.50 to secure this important and compelling painting for future generations by 25 August 2010, after which time it is at risk of export. Art Fund members have kick-started the campaign with a £100,000 grant, and the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded a grant of £333,000 towards the acquisition and a project to cover costs for its conservation, display, interpretation and regional tour to Leicester, Liverpool and the North East Museums Hub. In addition to the funds the Gallery is able to contribute to the purchase, it is now launching a campaign to raise £100,000 to complete the target.
Among the appeals supporters are writers and broadcasters Bonnie Greer and Gus Casely-Hayford; writer and actor Kwame Kwei-Armah; Baroness Lola Young; artist Faisal Abdu'Allah, and Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh.
Broadcaster and National Portrait Gallery Trustee, Zeinab Badawi, attending the launch of the Appeal, says: This portrait is a rare example of a painting of an eighteenth-century African in Britain . This portrait would be a vital and powerful addition to the Collection at the National Portrait Gallery for its representation of Britain 's diverse cultural heritage.
A high status African from a prosperous family of Muslim religious clerics, Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was born in the Gambia . At the age of 29 he was captured as a slave and transported to work on a plantation in America . After being imprisoned for trying to escape, he met the lawyer Thomas Bluett who become aware of Diallos high birth, intellect and education and took an interest in him, arranging to bring him to England in 1734. After his arrival, he mixed with high society and had a lasting impact on Britain s understanding of African culture, identity and religion.
During this time, Diallo was received with great enthusiasm by aristocrats and scholars including the Duke of Portland and Sir Hans Sloane, whom he helped with Arabic translations and his interest in the Quran. Sloane also arranged for Diallo to be presented at the Court of George II and later to be elected a member of the Gentlemans Society at Spalding. His supporters additionally arranged for him to sit for this portrait, which is also the earliest known painting by the artist William Hoare of Bath . The conflict for the sitter is recorded in a contemporary account which not only indicates the affection in which Diallo was held but sheds light on the practice of portraiture in England and other cultures:
Jobs Aversion to Pictures of all Sorts, was exceeding great; insomuch, that it was with great Difficulty that he could be brought to sit for his own. We assured him that we never worshipped any Picture, and that we wanted his for no other End but to keep us in mind of him. He at last consented to have it drawn; which was done by Mr Hoare. (Thomas Bluett, Memoirs, p.50)
The artist has responded sensitively to Diallos personality by depicting him, at the sitters own request, in his traditional dress and carrying his copy of the Quran around his neck. The painting has not previously been exhibited in public, although it was engraved in 1734 and a version was published again in 1750.
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London , says: This engaging portrait of Diallo offers a more complex history of the eighteenth century it is a vital acquisition.
Wesley Kerr, Chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund London Committee, says: This remarkable portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo tells so many stories about our past and captures so well the intelligence, intensity and religiosity of an eighteenth-century African. HLF was delighted to offer £333,000 to help keep it here in the UK available for everyone to see, savour and learn from, through an imaginative programme of special exhibitions and studies. Diallo, as a high born African who was enslaved and taken to America , was one of millions of victims of the brutal Triangular Trade. But he triumphed to cut an impressive figure in the salons of literary and royal London , and succeeded in returning to West Africa a free man. In Hoares picture, Diallos bright eyes follow you round the room and our centuries-old diversity is brought to life. We very much hope that the National Portrait Gallery succeeds in raising the rest of the money to make this hugely significant painting free to all.
Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, says: This portrait is of exceptional historical and sociological importance. Art Fund members have kick-started the campaign with a £100,000 grant and we now urge members of the public to help the National Portrait Gallery acquire the work for everyone to experience.
Donations to the National Portrait Gallery Ayuba Suleiman Diallo Appeal can be made online at www.npg.org.uk/diallo, or by contacting either Susie Holden on 020 7312 2454 / firstname.lastname@example.org or Stephanie Weissman on 020 7321 6645 / email@example.com
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (also known as Job ben Solomon) by William Hoare of Bath is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Room 15 until 30 July 2010.