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First portrait of a freed slave at the National Portrait Gallery.

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Saturday, 12th February 2011 – David Franchi

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Can a portrait be so important to be shown in itself out of any contest or an exhibition? The one of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo seems to give a positive answer to the question. The portrait “Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (also known as Job ben Solomon)” by William Hoare of Bath will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery until it embarks on a national tour in Spring 2012.

This portrait has a double importance. It is, in fact, the first known portrait of a black African Muslim and freed slave and the first portrait that honour a named African subject and Muslim as an individual and an equal, painted by the celebrated English portraitist William Hoare of Bath in 1733. The second significant reason is that the display comes from a cooperative agreement with Qatar Museum Authority (QMA) and the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Following the purchase of the work by QMA at Christie’s in November 2009, the painting was the subject of export restriction, having been judged by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art to be of outstanding importance to the history and culture of Britain. It was on this basis that the National Portrait Gallery expressed its strong interest in the painting. Therefore Qatar Museum Authority has now decided to lend the work to the National Portrait Gallery for a five year period.

QMA will support a programme organised by the Gallery to include the conservation of the painting, research and interpretation, a UK tour to include Leicester, Liverpool and the North-East, and an exhibition to visit Doha in 2013. As part of the programme, an intern from Qatar will spend time working at the National Portrait Gallery. The subject depicted, Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, was born (1701 -1773) in Bondu, Senegal, and was also known as Job ben Solomon. He was a famous enslaved Muslim victim of the slave trade. Ayuba was an extremely rare exception in the slave trade. Due to his intelligence and monetary ability, he was able to legally escape the hardships of slavery and return back home to Africa. His memoirs were published, in English and French, as one of the earliest “slave narratives”, a first-person account of the slave trade, in Thomas Bluett’s “Memories” (1734). Ayuba Diallo came from a prominent family of Muslim religious leaders. In 1730, Ayuba and his interpreter Loumein Yoas were near the Gambia River to trade slaves and paper.

They were captured by invading Mandingoes and sold to factors of the Royal African Company. Once in America as a slave Ayuba was placed in charge of the cattle but ran away and was captured at the Kent County Courthouse. There he was discovered by a lawyer, Thomas Bluett, who was impressed by Ayuba’s ability to write in Arabic. So Ayuba was allowed to write a letter in Arabic to James Oglethorpe, Director of the Royal African Company who purchased him for ₤45 and sent him to the London office of the Royal African Company. Bluett and Ayuba travelled to England in 1733. Bluett arranged for Ayuba’s stay in Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. Once more Ayuba was scared to be enslaved and pleaded Bluett again.

The Englishmen in London and surrounding provinces who had met Ayuba collected money to obtain Ayuba’s freedom. He was then able to fraternise with London’s elite, working for Hans Sloane as translator of Arabic into English and was in the company of many prominent people, including the Royal Family. In July 1734, Ayuba returned to Africa. William Hoare of Bath RA (1707 – 1792) was an English painter and printmaker, co-founder of the Royal Academy noted for his pastels. Hoare received a gentleman’s education. He was sent to London to study under Giuseppe Grisoni, who had left Florence for London in 1715. When Grisoni returned to Italy in 1728, Hoare went with him, travelling to Rome and continuing his studies under the direction of Francesco Imperiali. He remained in Rome for nine years, returning to London in 1737/8.

William Hoare was the first fashionable portraitist to settle in Bath. He obtained numerous commissions, the most important being for official portraits of social leaders of the day and political men. He was closely involved with the running of the Royal Mineral Water Hospital in Bath from 1742. The portrait of Diallo by William Hoare was previously believed lost, and not seen in public until 2010. The National Portrait Gallery launched an appeal to raise its cost of £554,937 to prevent its export but it is property of Qatar Museum Authority, purchased at Christie’s in November 2009

Published for: www.italoeuropeo.com

Direct link: http://www.italoeuropeo.com/entertaiment/arts/first-portrait-of-a-freed-slave-at-the-national-portrait-gallery/

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Written by davidfranchi

February 13, 2011 at 12:51 am

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