The man in this portrait, Peter Beckford, is depicted wearing a fanciful interpretation of seventeenth-century elite dress and brandishing a map of his lucrative sugar-producing Jamaican estates, which were established there by the sitter’s grandfather in the 1660s. By the eighteenth century, the Beckfords were the largest sugar plantation owners on that island, where they exploited the labor of more than 1,000 enslaved African people.
Despite great wealth, Peter’s grandson William remained insecure about the family’s merchant-class origins and commissioned Benjamin West to paint this posthumous portrait of his grandfather to foster the appearance of a noble lineage.
In 2021, in response to protests, the City of London Corporation voted to remove a statue of Peter Beckford’s son and William Beckford’s father, also named William, because of his connection to slavery.
Oil on canvas
57 1/2 × 45 3/8 in., 120 lb. (146 × 115.2 cm, 54.43kg)
frame: 70 x 58 x 4 in. (177.8 x 147.3 x 10.2 cm) (show scale)
Signed, lower left: "B.West / 1797"
Gift of Lilla Brown in memory of her husband, John W. Brown, by exchange
This item is not on view
Benjamin West (American, 1738-1820). Peter Beckford, 1797. Oil on canvas, 57 1/2 × 45 3/8 in., 120 lb. (146 × 115.2 cm, 54.43kg). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Lilla Brown in memory of her husband, John W. Brown, by exchange, 2012.44 (Photo: Image courtesy of Sotheby's, CUR.2012.44_Sotheby_photograph.jpg)
. Image courtesy of Sotheby's
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Who is this?
This is Peter Beckford, painted by Benjamin West. Peter Beckford was of British descent born in Jamaica in 1672 or 1673, which is why the map of Jamaica is included here.
Beckford became the largest plantation owner in Jamaica in 1710 when he inherited twenty plantations and 1,200 African slaves. Beckford made his fortune in sugar, the primary cash crop in eighteenth-century Jamaica. Beckford died in 1735,
making this 1797 painting a posthumous portrait.