Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me

WAG 7273


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. Also known as ‘Christ Blessing Little Children’, this work was made between 1862 and 1864. It was Gibson’s last completed work and one of his most ambitious. Neo-classical figures for religious subjects were also to be found in reliefs by other sculptors including John Flaxman (1755 - 1826), Antonio Canova (1757 - 1822) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770 - 1844), for example the latter’s 'Christian Charity' in the Walker Art Gallery collection. However, there is a stronger narrative element in Gibson’s detailed portrayal of the children and their guardians. Among the latter appear Henry Robertson Sandbach (1807-1895), the male figure second from the left, who commissioned the work, and Gibson himself on the extreme right. Through this commission, Sandbach appears to immortalise himself as a religious idol within the same image as Christ. The Liverpool merchant, ship-owner and plantation owner Henry Robertson Sandbach and his first wife Margaret (née Roscoe 1812 - 1852) were very important patrons of Gibson. In 1855, Henry Roberston Sandbach married his second wife, Elizabeth Williams (1828 - 1911). They had five children. This sculpture could symbolise his new role as a father. Elizabeth was the daughter of Mary Madocks (died 1868) and Martin Williams (1782 - 1856). Martin Williams was the owner of plantations in Jamaica. Elizabeth’s uncle William Alexander Madocks (1773 - 1828) was responsible for the development of the port and railway at Porthmadog and Tremadog in Gwynedd, North Wales. This interpretation was developed in collaboration with 'The Colonial Legacies of the Liverpool Sandbach family' community steering group. More information about this project can be found on the Walker Art Gallery's website.