The Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, a consortium that oversees seven Welsh institutions, has removed a portrait of Sir Thomas Picton from the galleries of the National Museum Wales in Cardiff in order to reevaluate the subject’s legacy. Picton is celebrated Welsh war hero, but as governor of Trinidad he was known for his brutal treatment of enslaved and Indigenous peoples.
The portrait was removed from view as part of a youth-led initiative called Reframing Picton that was sponsored by Amgueddfa Cymru and done in collaboration with a community partner, the Sub Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP). The painting, which had been on view for a century, will remain in storage and two artists with Trinidadian roots have been commissioned to “reinterpret” Picton’s life and legacy in the Caribbean, according to a press release from the museum.
Trinidadian and Tobagonian multidisciplinary artist Gesiye and Laku Neg, a U.K.-based collective of artists of Trinidadian heritage that shares African diaspora stories through the arts, will collaborate on the new monuments, which will enter Wales’s national collection upon its completion.
“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,” Kath Davies, director of collections and research at Amgueddfa Cymru, said in a statement. “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.”
The once lieutenant-general was hailed as hero for his actions in the Battle of Waterloo, and notorious for his displays of violence against the Trinidadian people during his governance of the island, from 1797–1803. Scrutiny of monuments to Picton has grown since the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020 and the Cardiff council previously voted to remove a marble statue of him from its Hall of Heroes at City Hall.
Dutch-born British artist Albert Houthuesen’s painting William Lloyd, Hedger and Ditcher (1937) will take the place of Picton’s portrait while the commissions are being created. As with much of Houthuesen’s work, the painting is a large-scale portrait that highlights a young working-class Welsh man who likely dug ditches in coal mines.
In a statement, Fadhili Maghiya, SSAP’s director, 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.”