James II portrait in Rishi Sonak’s 11 Downing Street drawing area is currently ‘under review.’ This is because James II’s Royal African Company sent slaves to Americas.

  • In Chancellor’s formal residence, a 17-century painting hangs over the fireplace. This space is used for formal receptions
  • Key role of the Stuarts in slavery trade was played by King Charles II, who granted charter to Royal African Company. His brother King James II was also a member.
  • The Company exported large numbers of slaves to Americas, and continued trading in slaves up until 1731.
  • Government Art Collection will perform a historic ‘interrogation of portraits

Rishi Sunak is currently reviewing a King James II portrait that was displayed in Rishi’s Drawing Room at 11 Downing Street. This review is due to it’s links to the slavery trade.

In a room used for formal receptions, the 17-century painting rests over a fireplace at the official residence of Chancellor.

The Government Art Collection will conduct an historical “interrogation” of the Stuart King’s connection with the Royal African Company. This company was responsible for the shipping of large numbers African slaves to America.

These slaves suffered severe dehydration, dysentery, and skin cancer while being kept on board ships. 

James was the Duke of York, and then king. The company had exclusive rights to British trade with West Africa. This included gold and silver.

A portrait of King James II (pictured) on display in Rishi Sunak's drawing room at 11 Downing Street is 'under review' due to its links to the slave trade

Due to its connections to slavery trade, Rishi Sunak has a portrait of King James II on display at Rishi’s drawing room at 11, Downing Street.

The 17th-century painting currently hangs above a fireplace (above) in the Chancellor's official residence in a space used for formal receptions. It will undergo a historical 'interrogation' by the Government Art Collection owing to the Stuart king's links with the Royal African Company, which was responsible for shipping vast numbers of slaves from Africa to the Americas

It hangs over a fireplace in the official residence of the Chancellor, where it is used as a place for formal receptions. Due to Stuart King’s links to Royal African Company (which was responsible for shipping large amounts of slaves from Africa into the Americas), the Government Art Collection will ‘interrogate’ the painting.

The company kept its monopoly up to 1698, and continued trading in slaves through 1731.

According to The Telegraph’s sources, Mr Sunak requested the portrait by John Michael Wright in 1660 to be installed inside the drawing room. This was during the summer rehang of Government-owned art.

GAC artifacts are featured in UK Government buildings throughout the UK, and worldwide.

This collection was created to encourage British art and cultural diplomacy.

This vast collection, which began in 1898, now contains over 14,000 works. They are mostly works of British artists working in many media.

It is thought that Mr Sunak asked John Michael Wright to paint the portrait of him circa 1660, and to install it in his drawing room as part of a summer rehanging Government-owned art.

The GAC is now part of the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport and plans to conduct an historical “interrogation” to uncover ‘hidden stories’ within its many thousands of artworks.

The review was instigated under the leadership of GAC’s director, Penny Johnson, who unveiled a £50,000 commission earlier this year to look into ‘colonialism’ earmarked for display in official British buildings around the world.

The Chancellor is likely to make changes to the artwork in Number 11, but it’s believed the GAC can help to select pieces to any rehang requests by politicians. 

Although King James II’s portrait interpretation is currently under review, it will not be removed due to Government policy that’retain or explain’ potentially controversial items rather than removing them.

The Telegraph received a statement from the GAC stating that “The reinterpretation will provide an opportunity to reflect, interrogation and challenge” and in accordance with Government policies on “retaining and explaining”.

“In keeping with the position of the Government, the GAC is not going to remove any artifacts.”

King James II of England and his Family’s Connections to the African Slave Trade

James II (1633-1701), reigned from 1685-1688 as King of England and Ireland (as James VII).

The last Stuart monarch in the direct male line, he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution (1688–89) and replaced by William III and Mary II. 

James II, a Roman Catholic priest, alienated the majority of Britain. 

A revolution sparked by his religious beliefs made Parliament permanent the ruler of England.  

It was the Stuarts who played an important role in slavery trade. King Charles II issued a charter to Royal African Company. His brother, King James II, was also a member.

The conditions aboard ships were harsh and the slaves suffered from dehydration and dysentery. 

Over 20,000 people died in the crossings, and their bodies were carried overboard. 

The trade monopoly was held by the company until 1698 when the law changed and opened African trade to all English merchants. 

The Royal African Company continued to trade in slaves up until 1731.