The Flight into Egypt

WAG 151


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 ownership history of this painting is inseparable from the transatlantic slave trade and the vast wealth it created. Its past owners were William Earle (1760 -1839), Hugh Jones (1776 - 1842) and John Pemberton Heywood (1803 -1877). Earle was a Liverpool merchant and shipowner who co-owned a plantation in British Guiana. He and his partners received compensation for freed enslaved people under the Slavery Abolition Act (1833). With his wealth, Earle became an important art collector and patron of British and Italian artists and there are several artworks from his collection now in the Walker Art Gallery. The ‘Jones’ who owned this painting after Earle was probably the Welsh-born Liverpool banker Hugh Jones. He was a partner in the bank Arthur Heywood, Sons & Co, which was founded by Arthur Heywood (1717 – 1795) on the proceeds of slavery. Arthur’s brother Benjamin (1722 – 1795) was similarly a banker. The Heywood family invested in no less than 133 voyages trafficking enslaved African people between 1745 and 1789. John Pemberton Heywood was the grandson of Arthur Heywood and, like him, became a banker. On his death, the Liverpool Journal of Commerce wrote: 'It is rumoured that [he] was the richest commoner in England, having an income of between £80,000 to £100,000 per annum.' His probate in 1877 was valued at £1,900,000. He presented this painting to the Liverpool Royal Institution between 1839 and 1843. The Institution itself was created on the proceeds of slavery. Many of its backers were from families who profited from slavery, including the Earles, Gladstones, Heywoods, Shands, Tinnes, Sandbachs, Brooks, Branckers, Cases and Tobins. The painting is by the Italian artist Luigi Garzi (1638 - 1721). The traditional Biblical subject of the Holy Family's escape into Egypt is presented as a fantastic spectacle. Mary, Joseph and the Christ child are in a boat, accompanied by their donkey and two angels, being rowed across a river.