Cl 105 - The Abolition of Slavery

Courtney Lewis listed The Abolition of Slavery as CL 105 in his first book (George Baxter, his life and Work) with the comment, no known copy exists.

The print was going to be based on Benjamin Robert Haydon’s painting of 1841 “The Great Meeting of Delegates held in London, in June, 1840, for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade throughout the world.“ I have managed to locate the original painting that is now held at the National Portrait Gallery, given to them by The British & Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in 1880.

The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 by Benjamin Robert Haydon -  oil on canvas, 1841 - courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Courtney Lewis referred to an advert in the Patriot of Aug 31 1843 stating "Intended for publication.  Haydon's celebrated picture of the great meeting of delegates held in London, in June, 1840, for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade throughout the world.  Thomas Clarkson, President.  To be printed in oil colours by G. Baxter, Patentee, 3, Charterhouse Square, as soon as a sufficient number of subscribers' names can be obtained.  No money to be paid until completed and delivered.  Price to subscribers: Proofs £3 3s. 0d. Prints £2 2s. 0d. Size 21½ x 17.  This picture is about to be published under the approval of the Venerable Thomas Clarkson, who, with some of the leading abolitionists, have already put down their names as subscribers.  It will be executed in the very best style; and contains upwards of 130 portraits of distinguished friends of the negro, including some of the leading ministers of different denominations who attended the convention as delegates.  An early application is requested as the work will be commenced as soon as 150 names are obtained.”

 

It has always been assumed that the minimum number of subscribers was never reached and hence the print was never started but I have since found out that it did progress to some degree.

 

The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter for the period 1843-1845 gives further insight:

 

July 1843 – similar to the Patriot advert above. The publication states that Baxter “proposes to publish Haydon’s great picture…the work will be commenced as soon as 150 subscribers names are received…The price of the picture will be £3 3s for proofs - £2 2s for prints the size 21.5 “ x 17”.

 

Sept 1843 – Baxter states “intended for publication” and gives 39 peoples names as well as himself and two booksellers who can receive subscribers names.

 

Oct 1843 – The publication announces that Royal Highness Prince Albert has consented to be a patron of the work

 

Jan 1844 – Baxter advertises “ Abolition of Slavery” (the first use of this actual title) dedicated by command to His Royal Highness Prince Albert…has commenced his oil colour picture…interestingly he states “The undertaking is an onerous one and will cost nearly £2000 before any return can be expected, but this outlay GB is prepared to make”. He goes on to state that upwards of 200 portraits are included which is strange as it is stated that the painting has ‘upwards of 130 portraits’ and the key to the list of sitters gives 135 names.

 

July 1844 – The publication states it has “the pleasure of announcing that Mr Baxter is making decisive progress…The whole is now in outline and is placed for inspection at the office of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society…We do not pretend to a scientific judgment but we will run the hazard of saying that, in its present state, the work pleases us much and that it gives fair promise, in our opinion, of successful execution” - not exactly a glowing recommendation but…

 

The copy of the publication I have seen goes through editions till Dec 1845 and no other mention of the print is made. So it seems that even though a copy ‘in outline’, a drawing or possibly a basic print, was made the 150 minimum subscribers were not gained and the print never went into production.

 

It just goes to show the ‘lack of interest’, even with 42 people able to take subscribers names, 135 people who would have been shown in the print and Baxter actually attending their annual meeting of on 17th May 1844 with his friend Lord Brougham in the chair. Still he could not get 150 names. In general the British public seemed a lot more apathetic towards abolishing slavery than we would initially think, even the case, so it is said, when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire some ten years beforehand and now it is all happening a lot further afield.

 

This also couldn’t have helped  - The National Portrait Gallery also holds a Lithograph titled 'The Abolition of the Slave Trade’ (The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840) by John Alfred Vinter dated 1841 being a copy of Haydons painting, perhaps another example of Baxter’s poor timing. This Litho can be seen here and also shows a list to the attendees at the meeting.

 

One other thing that I find interesting is that Baxter states his costs (which could easily be exaggerated) would be £2000 therefore saying that he would need to sell at least 635 copies of the more expensive proofs copies just to break even and as proofs are thought of as the first run of prints produced, in reality most probably nearer 900 -1000 copies.