The Death of Oedipus

WAG 1537


This artwork has been identified as having links to a person connected with transatlantic slavery. This research is part of the Walker Art Gallery’s ongoing work to be more transparent about the collection’s relationship to Britain's colonial past. The first owner of the painting was William Roscoe (1753 - 1831) who bought it directly from the artist in 1791. Roscoe was a Liverpool lawyer and anti-slavery campaigner. However, he was a supporter of the Slavery Abolition Act (1833) which paid compensation to the former owners of freed enslaved African people. Moreover, although he wasn’t directly involved in the trade of slaved African people, his family benefitted from it. His grand-daughter Margaret (1812-1852) married the prominent Henry Robertson Sandbach (1807 - 1895), who was awarded compensation for his estates in British Guiana (now Guyana). 'The Death of Oedipus' was later owned by James Aikin (1792 - 1878), who acquired it before 1842. Aikin was a Liverpool merchant and shipowner who is thought to have been active in the Caribbean. His children benefitted from the slave trade owing to a bequest left to them by their uncle, the owner of enslaved African people William Aikin (died 1837). James Aiken presented the painting to Liverpool and it became one of the foundation pieces of the Walker Art Gallery when it opened in 1877. The artist Henry Fuseli (1741 - 1825) took inspiration from Sophocles’s play 'Oedipus at Colonus' when making this work. Oedipus in this painting is an old man facing death, while his daughters bid him farewell and grieve.