Why portrait of Leeds West Indian Carnival founder Dr Arthur France has been added to collection at Harewood House

There are several hundred portraits that adorn the walls of Harewood House. Exclusively, they are of white people from privileged backgrounds, many of them members of the Lascelles family which has owned the country house in Leeds for centuries.

None of them portray people of colour, but a new series of photographic portraits has been commissioned to help to redress that balance.

With Missing Portraits, the Earl and Countess of Harewood, David Lascelles and Diane Howse, an artist and curator, hope to ‘retrofit’ the collection, adding to it a series of images of men and women of colour who have a contemporary connection to Harewood.

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The first portrait in the series is of community activist and the founder of Leeds West Indian Carnival, Dr Arthur France.

A new exhibition at Harewood House focuses on the life of Leeds West Indian Carnival founder Dr Arthur France. Photo: Tom ArberA new exhibition at Harewood House focuses on the life of Leeds West Indian Carnival founder Dr Arthur France. Photo: Tom Arber
A new exhibition at Harewood House focuses on the life of Leeds West Indian Carnival founder Dr Arthur France. Photo: Tom Arber

Produced by Leeds-based photographer and filmmaker Ashley Karrell, it is inspired by the formal style of portraiture used in depictions of the Lascelles family since the 18th century.

David outlines how "dear friend” Arthur and the team at Harewood have collaborated together on a number of events and projects over more than a decade.

“Arthur has been very much a supporter of and inspiration for all the things we’ve tried to do around coming to terms with our history, that awkward history, the history of empire and the slave trade which along with so many other places in this country we’re part of,” he says.

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"We’ve tried to be open and honest about it and engage with it in as creative a way as possible and Arthur has been a great supporter and advisor through all of those things.”

Arthur France pictured at the 2019 Leeds West Indian Carnival.Arthur France pictured at the 2019 Leeds West Indian Carnival.
Arthur France pictured at the 2019 Leeds West Indian Carnival.

The ground that Harewood House was built on was bought, in 1738, by Henry Lascelles, using money from the West Indian sugar trade, money which had come from owning plantations, slaves, ships and warehouses.

David talks of how the Lascelles family and Harewood House Trust have been working over a number of years to explore and acknowledge the estate’s colonial past.

Missing Portraits is part of its Open History programme, which aims to promote and celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion, combat racism and encourage what can sometimes be ‘difficult’ conversations.

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“Although there is nothing we can do to change Harewood’s history and the source of the wealth that built it, we can be more open and inclusive in discussing it and therefore better able to represent the world we live in now,” David says.

“We hope that by sharing Arthur’s story, and those of the portrait sitters that will follow, we can encourage positive discourse about our shared history and start to try to create a more equal society today.”

The portrait of Arthur is accompanied by an exhibition celebrating both his life and his contribution to the cultural life of Leeds.

Arthur France: Son of a Small Island, which opened earlier this month and runs until October 23, tells Arthur’s story from a boy growing up in the Caribbean island of Nevis to becoming a leading figure in Leeds.

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He has received numerous awards in recognition of the valuable contributions he has made to his local community and in 1997 he was awarded the MBE.

Arthur, the direct descendant of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, came to the UK in 1957, leaving behind his home and family, as well as the culture, art and music that “makes the Caribbean tick”.

After an uphill struggle, he launched the Leeds West Indian Carnival, the first of its kind in Europe, in August 1967.

For Arthur, it was about bringing people of all races together to share Caribbean culture – and the carnival is still thriving more than 50 years on.

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"We have just celebrated the 55th anniversary,” he says. “The carnival was launched not only as a celebration of Caribbean culture and heritage, but as a celebration of our forefathers and their emancipation.”

The exhibition at Harewood is inspired by his own living room and features a collection of objects and memorabilia including a costume designed by Arthur for the 50th anniversary of the Leeds West Indian Carnival, a cricket ball presented to him by Antiguan retired cricketer Sir Viv Richards, and a signed cricket bat from the West Indies tour of England in 2000

His portrait, the centrepiece of the exhibition, will continue to be displayed as a key part of the permanent collection at Harewood, as the portrait series, of people of African-Caribbean heritage, seeks to address an historic lack of diversity.

“In the 18th and 19th century, portraits were painted if you became rich and successful and in this country that almost certainly meant you were white,” David says. “Portraits of people of colour from that period are extremely rare. In Harewood House, there are literally hundreds of portraits of people.

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"They’re all of white people, all of people of wealth and importance, mostly related to the Lascelles family. There was nothing really that reflected the full history of Harewood and its strong historic connections with the slave trade, the money that actually helped to build the house.”

Arthur is proud to be part of the efforts to change that. “You have to start from somewhere. History is there and you can’t erase it,” he says.

“Representation of African Caribbean people at Harewood is an imperative in everyone’s understanding of our shared history,” Arthur adds, “and in representing the people who enabled this place to come into being."

Entry to Arthur France: Son of a Small Island is included as part of day tickets to Harewood. Visit harewood.org