This painting depicts the university’s early benefactor and namesake, Elihu Yale (1649–1721). He is seated between his sons-in-law, whose marriages to his daughters Catherine and Anne Yale had been brokered with the vast wealth he had accrued as a merchant and colonial administrator in India. While Yale’s grandchildren play in the background, an enslaved child, whose name is now unknown, serves wine to the men. Over the course of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, many children of African and Indian descent, mostly boys, were separated from their families to serve as attendants in wealthy households in Britain. Often, these children were forced to wear metal collars, like the one seen here, to identify and recapture those who ran away.
Although never part of Paul Mellon’s collection of British art, this group portrait was the first painting to be formally accessioned by the museum.
Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2021