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James II’s 11th Downing Street portrait of Rishi Sunak ‘under review’ due to the king’s links with the slave trade


Portrait of James II hanging in the drawing room at 11 Downing Street in Rishi Sunak is ‘under review’ because the African King’s Royal Company shipped slaves to the Americas

  • A 17th-century painting hangs over a fireplace in the chancellor’s official residence in a space used for official receptions
  • The Stewarts played a major role in the slave trade. King Charles II granted a charter to the Royal African Company, of which his brother King James II was a member
  • The company shipped huge numbers of slaves from Africa to the Americas and didn’t stop dealing in slaves until 1731
  • Portrait will be subject to historical ‘interrogation’ by the state art collection










A portrait of King James II is displayed in Rishi Sunak’s drawing room at 11 Downing Street “under review” for its connection to the slave trade.

The 17th-century painting rests over a fireplace in the chancellor’s official residence in a space used for official receptions.

She will be subject to historical questioning by the State Art Collection (GAC) over Stuart King’s links with the Royal African Company, which was responsible for shipping large numbers of slaves from Africa to the Americas.

Slaves were kept in appalling conditions on board the ships and suffered from dehydration, dysentery, and scurvy.

As Duke of York and later King, James led the company that monopolized British trade with West Africa, including gold and silver.

Portrait of King James II (pictured) on display in Rishi Sunak’s drawing room at 11 Downing Street ‘under review’ for links to the slave trade

The 17th-century painting currently hangs over a fireplace (above) in the chancellor's official residence in a space used for official receptions.  She will be subject to historical questioning by the State Art Collection over Stuart King's links to the Royal African Company, which was responsible for shipping large numbers of slaves from Africa to the Americas.

The 17th-century painting currently hangs over a fireplace (above) in the chancellor’s official residence in a space used for official receptions. She will be subject to historical questioning by the State Art Collection over Stuart King’s links to the Royal African Company, which was responsible for shipping large numbers of slaves from Africa to the Americas.

It monopolized the company until 1698 and did not stop dealing in slaves until 1731.

It is believed that Sunak ordered the portrait, painted circa 1660 by John Michael Wright, to be installed in the drawing room while government-owned artworks were being re-hung in the summer, according to The Telegraph.

Artwork from GAC is displayed in UK government buildings across the UK and the world.

The collection is said to be designed to promote British art and support cultural diplomacy.

The compilation of the massive collection began in 1898 and now includes more than 14,000 objects dating from the 16th century to the present day – works by mainly British artists in a wide range of media.

Mr. Sunak is believed to have ordered the portrait, painted circa 1660 by John Michael Wright, to be installed in the drawing room while government-owned artworks were being re-hung in the summer.

However, GAC, part of the Digital Culture, Media and Sports division, now intends to pursue a historical “interrogation” to shed light on the “hidden narratives” in thousands of artworks.

The review was instigated under the leadership of GAC Director Benny Johnson, who unveiled a £50,000 commission earlier this year to look into the ‘colonisation’ intended for display in official British buildings around the world.

It is believed that changes to the artwork in Drawing Room 11 will be the prerogative of the Chancellor – but the GAC helps select pieces for any re-suspension requested by politicians.

Although the interpretation of the portrait of King James II may be under review, the painting will not be removed due to the government’s policy of “preserving and explaining” controversial objects rather than removing them.

The GAC told The Telegraph: “The reinterpretation process will be an opportunity for reflection, questioning and challenge and will be carried out in line with government policy guidelines on ‘retain and explain’.

“In line with the government’s position, the GAC will not remove any piece of art.”

King James II and his family’s links to the African slave trade

James II (1633-1701) ruled England, Ireland and Scotland (like James VII) from 1685 to 1688.

The last of the Stuart monarchs in the direct male line, he was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution (1688-1689) and replaced by William III and Mary II.

James II was a Roman Catholic which alienated most of Britain.

The Revolution, engendered by his religious beliefs, permanently established Parliament as the ruling power in England.

Stewart played a major role in the slave trade when King Charles II granted a charter to the Royal African Company, of which his brother King James II was a member.

Slaves were kept in harsh conditions on board the ships and suffered from dehydration, dysentery, and scurvy.

More than 20,000 people were killed during the crossings and their bodies were thrown into the sea.

The company monopolized trade until 1698, when a change in law opened up African trade to all English merchants.

The Royal African Company did not stop dealing in slaves until 1731.

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