The Portrait

The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840, by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1841 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840
by Benjamin Robert Haydon
NPG 599

The painting was completed in April 1841 and displayed at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly for an entrance charge of one shilling. The exhibition was not a commercial success and critical reactions were mixed. Clarkson's niece declared it 'the most wonderful thing I ever saw', while delegate William Lucas dismissed it as a 'wagon-load of heads'. Haydon was disappointed. Having planned a grand history painting, he blamed the challenge of fitting so many portraits into a workable spatial composition.

The painting was displayed again at the next Anti-Slavery Convention in 1843 and was presented to the National Portrait Gallery by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in 1880. As an impassioned reaction to a gathering which marked over fifty years of tireless work, the painting remains an important testament to a cause that loomed large in the Regency period.

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