Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

BM redisplays founder Hans Sloane in context

The redisplay of the Hans Sloane bust is part of the British Museum’s efforts to address Britain’s colonial past Photo: Paul Hudson.

Gareth Harris, Debate flares as British Museum moves bust of slave-owning founder Hans Sloane, The Art Newspaper, 25 August 2020

As part of the museum’s efforts to address Britain’s colonial past, officials acknowledge that the collector “exploited slaves

Officials at the British Museum have moved a bust of the institution’s founding collector, Hans Sloane, from a pedestal to a nearby cabinet in the Enlightenment Gallery because of his links to the slave trade.

A museum spokeswoman says that in the light of the debate about statues in public spaces—including the furore over the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol—“the bust of the British Museum founding collector, Hans Sloane (by Michael Rysbrack, 1730s) will be redisplayed, juxtaposed with objects that reflect that Sloane’s collection was created in the context of the British Empire and the slave economy”.

The display acknowledges that “Sloane’s travels and collecting in colonial Jamaica exploited slaves and explore the fact that his collecting was partly financed from the labour of enslaved Africans on his wife’s sugar plantations,” she adds.

In his will, Sloane bequeathed his entire collection to King George II for the nation in return for the payment of £20,000 to his heirs; he died in 1753. His holdings form the basis of the British Museum collection. The display label adds that during his time in Jamaica he researched local medicine and collected natural history specimens.

The move is part of the museum’s efforts to address Britain’s colonial past, says director Hartwig Fischer. “These are subjects that need to be addressed, and to be addressed properly. We need to understand our own history,” he told the Telegraph.

But the move has sparked a storm on social media with some commentators accusing the museum of showing “disrespect and ingratitude to a man whose generosity has helped preserve so much world history for millions to enjoy”. Alistair Brown, the policy manager at the Museums Association, tweeted however: “The statue hasn’t been removed, it’s been moved. It hasn’t been cancelled, it has been given more context.”

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.