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


  • Title: The family of Elihu Yale and an Enslaved Child
  • Creator: Attributed to John Verelst, ca. 1675–1734, Dutch, active in Britain (by 1697)
  • Date Created: ca. 1719
  • Physical Dimensions: 79 1/4 x 92 3/4 inches (201.3 x 235.6 cm)
  • Subject Keywords: smoking, drinking, candle, ring, wigs, pipes (smoking equipment), pen, conversation piece, sword, drinking glasses, snuff boxes, group portrait, landscape, portrait, column (architectural element), food, duke, children, boy, feast, writing (processes), diamond, men, wine, enslaved child
  • External Link: See this work of art on the Yale Center for British Art website
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Repository Name: Yale Center for British Art
  • Credit Line: Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Andrew Cavendish, eleventh Duke of Devonshire

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