During my last trip to the V&A, I came across the portrait of Francis Williams, a Jamaican Scholar who was involved – even if tangentially it seems – in numerous spats with racist philosophers such as David Hume.
As my ‘Global Warwickshire’ research project is on Black makers in the 18th-19th centuries, what piqued my interest was the fact that the artist is unknown. Considering how learned black people – especially men like Francis who were still determined to give back to the community – were part of collectives e.g. Sons of Africa and supported each other in various ways, I couldn’t help wonder if the artist might have been another talented black individual, albeit currently nameless.
There’s a lot of discourse about the style in which he’s painted: could it be caricature or emphasising his intelligence?
Instead I decided to look at it from an Africanist/indigenous (Taino) perspective where one often sees an emphasis on the head:
A lot more needs to be learned about Francis Williams and the Black milieu at this time, and as I am no art historian, this isn’t me saying this counts as evidence of a definite link. However, as a Black designer whose entire methodology is centred on looking at things from different perspectives, to question the framing is everything.
References of interest