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Peter Beckford

Benjamin West

American Art

The man in this portrait, Peter Beckford, is depicted wearing a fanciful interpretation of seventeenth-century elite dress and brandishing a map of his lucrative sugar-producing Jamaican estates, which were established there by the sitter’s grandfather in the 1660s. By the eighteenth century, the Beckfords were the largest sugar plantation owners on that island, where they exploited the labor of more than 1,000 enslaved African people.

Despite great wealth, Peter’s grandson William remained insecure about the family’s merchant-class origins and commissioned Benjamin West to paint this posthumous portrait of his grandfather to foster the appearance of a noble lineage.

In 2021, in response to protests, the City of London Corporation voted to remove a statue of Peter Beckford’s son and William Beckford’s father, also named William, because of his connection to slavery.
MEDIUM Oil on canvas
DATES 1797
DIMENSIONS 57 1/2 × 45 3/8 in., 120 lb. (146 × 115.2 cm, 54.43kg) frame: 70 x 58 x 4 in. (177.8 x 147.3 x 10.2 cm)
SIGNATURE Signed, lower left: "B.West / 1797"
CREDIT LINE Gift of Lilla Brown in memory of her husband, John W. Brown, by exchange
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
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