Reframing Picton: National Museum of Wales

The Public Programme

Culture& is excited to be working with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, to consult with their young producers and community partners the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel on Reframing Picton, a project to recontextualise the portrait of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton GCB. Picton was a Welsh officer of the British Army who fought in the Napoleonic Wars and was the highest-ranking officer to be killed during the Battle Waterloo in 1815.

The portrait of Picton circa 1812 by Sir Martin Archer Shee, which currently hangs in the Faces of Wales Gallery at National Museum Cardiff, is being recontextualised by the museum with a contemporary art commission. Culture& is working with the museum and young people to facilitate consultation exploring options for how the portrait might be shown and in what kind of context within the museum collection.

Picton, who was born in Haverfordwest in 1758, is remembered by some with pride but his reputation as a cruel tyrant in Trinidad, where he was the Governor from 1797–1803, was well known before his death at Waterloo. Picton was put on trial at the King’s Bench in 1806, accused of ordering the judicial torture of Louisa Calderon, a 14 year old girl accused of the theft of money from a Port of Spain businessman, Pedro Ruiz, whom Louisa’s mother had arranged for her to live with as a ‘mistress’ at age 11. The jury found him guilty, but Picton was never sentenced and the decision was partially reversed by special verdict at a retrial in 1808.

Scrutiny of the memorials to Picton has intensified since the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Cardiff City Council voted in July 2020 to remove a marble statue of Picton from its Hall of Heroes at City Hall.

Culture& is honoured to be involved in this important piece of work and is delighted that the museum is facing up to this reappraisal as a necessary step towards change, and challenging the systemic and institutional racism that affects the interpretation of our national heritage which continues to inflict harm today.

Alt Text: Image is a portrait of Thomas Picton, 18th Century colonialist. A white paint stroke covers his face to ‘remove’ his portrait.