Richard Gildart card

National Museums Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery / Art UK

Richard Gildart

WAG 10637

On display


This picture is a portrait of the slaver Richard Gildart (1671-1770). He owned at least three ships and used them to forcibly transport thousands of people kidnapped in West Africa to Virginia in North America and to the Caribbean. There they were sold and forced to work as enslaved labour on sugar or tobacco plantations. Gildart grew rich through these activities and became an important figure in Liverpool. He was the town’s elected Member of Parliament between1734 and 1754 and it’s Mayor three times. His political position shows how central slavery was to Liverpool and its development in the 18th century. There are other portraits of slavers in our collection. None of them have been displayed for many years. This portrait has remained on show owing to its quality and the significance of the artist. Joseph Wright of Derby was one of the leading painters of his day. This picture demonstrates his ability to capture both the physical likeness and character of a person in his celebrated work. Portraits are often made to commemorate important people and their achievements. Gildart’s business and political career were built on the suffering and forced labour of the African people he enslaved, separating them from their homes and families forever. This picture was paid for with the money he made doing this. Does this portrait belong on the walls of the gallery today? Does its display help us tell and understand the history of slavery? Or does it continue to honour someone who committed crimes against humanity? In light of recent international events and the toppling of the statue of another slaver, Edward Colston (1636-1721), in Bristol, we want to know what our visitors think. We have kept the portrait on display for now to be transparent with visitors and begin this conversation. You can share your thoughts with us by emailing