Subjects Depicted: Panah, Peter and Wadström, Carl Bernhard
Physical Dimensions: w67.5 x h88 cm
More Information: The portrait represents the Swedish industrialist Carl Bernhard Wadström (1746-1799) and the African prince Peter Panah. Wadström was an active opponent of the slave trade and redeemed Panah from a slave ship in 1789. The portrait was painted by Carl Fredrik von Breda the same year.
Carl Bernhard Wadström entertained philanthropic ideas and fought for equal rights for everybody. He was probably heavily influenced by scientist Emanuel Swedenborg, and had a vision of creating a Swedish ideal society in Africa. During a trip to West Africa in 1787, he came into contact with the slave trade and took a strong position against it. In his diary from the trip, he wrote: “It is a misery that passes imagination; no day or night passes without hearing wailing cries of someone being dragged away.”
On the way home from Africa Wadström stayed in London where there was an intense debate between people who saw the black man as a human being and those who had capital invested in companies involved in slave trading. With first-hand knowledge of the slave trade, Wadström worked intensively with public opinion against the slave trade and slavery. He spoke at the British Privy Council and exhibited his own drawings of slave hunts and plan drawings of slave ships. Wadström stayed in London between 1789 and 1794 and in 1789 published the essay Observations on the Slave Track, followed five years later by An Essay on Colonization.
When a slave ship heading to North America stopped in London, Wadström visited the ship along with some MPs to observe the conditions of the slaves on board. In West Africa Wadström had met the King of Mezurado and he recognised the king's sign worn by one of the slaves. The man proved to be Peter Panah, the son of the king of Mezurado. Wadström redeemed Panah who, however, subsequently caught smallpox and died in Wadström’s home.
In the portrait Wadström is shown teaching Panah, pointing his finger at the book Sapientia Angelica De Divina Providentia (On Angelic Wisdom and Divine Providence) by Swedenborg. Under the book is a map of Africa. The men are in an environment, probably Africa, where a hut and a palm tree can be glimpsed in the background.
The painting has a hierarchical perspective; the white man is in a superior position looking down at Panah, who in turn is looking up at Wadström. The men, however, do not make eye contact, and neither of them are looking at the book Wadström is pointing at. In the painting, the white man may be interpreted in two different ways: as a colonialist oppressor transmitting his cultural heritage to Panah, or as a liberal innovator fighting for the abolition of slavery and the equal value of all people.
The picture was painted by artist Carl Fredrik von Breda, who was staying in London at the same time as Wadström and was a pupil of the great master of portrait painting, court painter Joshua Reynolds. The double portrait was exhibited in the Royal Academy's exhibition in London in 1789 entitled “A Swedish Gentleman instructing a Negro Prince”. Von Breda later became a professor at the Swedish Academy of Fine Arts (1796-1810) and was the leading portrait painter of his time.
The painting was acquired by Nordiska museet in 1890.