Black and White Women Portrait Remains in U.K.

Black and White Women Portrait, Painted in 17th-Century, Brings a Rare and Fresh Perspective on Race and Gender In 1600s.

Jun 26, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Black and White Women
Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies (c. 1650). Photo courtesy of Compton Verney.


Black and white women portrait, rare and unknown, enables fresh insight into race and gender in the 17th century. The painting shows two women – one black and the other white, dressed in beautiful gowns and standing side by side. The U.K. says the portrait is of great significance, because it talks about the country’s history. 


Black and White Women Portrait – Nationally Significant

Tate Britain’s rehang. PHOTO MADELEINE BUDDO/©TATE


The “Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies” painter remains unknown. But, there is some information implicating that the painting dates back to the mid-17th century. Also, there are ties with that period’s English School. It emerged, for the first time, two years ago. There was an auction in Shropshire in 2021, with a threat of painting leaving the U.K.


The U.K. institutions took immediate action and put a temporary stop on sale. This helped in getting time for acquiring the painting, and thus protect British history. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest had a key role in this process. In accordance with predetermined standards, the independent body, supported by the Arts Council, advises the secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport if a piece of art meant for exportation qualifies as a work of national significance.


Joshua Reynolds’s Portrait of Omai on the move at Tate Britain. Photo: Matthew Fearn – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images.


“The painting will delight audiences and encourage debate about and research into race and gender during the period”, commented the chair of the committee Andrew Hochhauser KC in a press statement. The committee also said: “The depiction of a black female sitter in a 1650s painting was highly unusual … inviting important debate about race and gender during the period”.

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A Thorough Analysis at Yale

The Tate Britain


The painting is now Compton Verney’s possession. They are saving the painting for its art gallery in Warwickshire, England. Compton Verney used different funds to acquire the painting: around $390,000 from its Collection Settlement, and from two grants. One’s amount is $196,000, and it comes from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). The other includes $64,000, from a V&A Purchase Grant Fund.


The Yale Centre for British Art at Yale University will now conserve The two Ladies and conduct a thorough analysis to comprehend its intricate storyline before it is put on exhibit for viewers the following year. Geraldine Collinge, its CEO, said: “The painting fits so interestingly with our collections. We’ve got portraits and folk art, where we’re thinking about different ways of showing people. For us, it opens up a conversation about who’s in portraits and why certain people aren’t in portraits”.


Venice Biennale Great Britain Pavilion exhibition view, via La Biennale website


She added: “We don’t know who the women were. The fact that it’s two women – one is black, one is white – is particularly interesting for us now and they were stories that were deliberately not told”.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.