The Finding of Aesculapius

WAG 3040


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. While working as a draughtsman in the studio of the Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757 - 1822) in Rome, the Italian artist Giovanni Tognolli (1786 - 1862) probably met the Rome-based Liverpudlian William Earle (1760 - 1839), the first owner of this painting. William Earle came from a prominent family of merchants and ship-owners who were active in a wide range of commercial activities, including the traffic of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. In the 1830s William Earle and his business partners Thomas Earle (1754-1822) and Thomas Molyneux (1753 - 1835) acquired a plantation in British Guiana (now Guyana). They received compensation for freed enslaved people under the Slavery Abolition Act (1833). The Finding of Aesculapius was later owned by James Aikin (1792-1878), who bought it in the 1830s. Aikin was a Liverpool merchant and ship-owner. His children benefitted from the transatlantic slave trade owing to the bequest left to them by their uncle, the owner of enslaved African people, William Aikin (died 1837).