Timeline 1969–2021

This period focuses on Elihu Yale's presence after the conception of the Center in 1969 to 2021.

 

1969

On February 14, Thomas S. Wragg, keeper of the Devonshire Collections, writes to Professor Louis L. Martz, Saybrook College, Yale, suppling a picture of the group portrait and giving his blessing that “you may of course show it to anyone who may be interested.” Martz shows this picture to Jules Prown, director of the Paul Mellon Center for British Art (later the Yale Center for British Art).

On April 15, Jules Prown writes to Paul Mellon, the Center’s founder, and describes the picture, sharing Wragg’s suggestion “that it might be available for purchase.” Prown goes on to say that “the painting is appealing and interesting in itself, and of exceptional interest here because of the Yale portrait. . . . If it is agreeable with you, I would like to investigate further, hopefully getting to see the picture next time I am in England and determining a price if the picture is indeed for sale.”

On July 14, Jules Prown writes to Thomas S. Wragg, thanking him for a pleasant visit to Chatsworth: “I was delighted to have the chance to see the large Yale-Cavendish portrait group, and am enthralled by the possibility that we might be able to acquire it for Yale. The likeness of Elihu Yale in the Center is superb. It would be splendid if Yale possessed such a powerful likeness from life of the man after whom this university was named. Furthermore, the painting would be an important exhibit at the Mellon Center, underlining the ties between England and America that have been so important for America and her institutions.”

On July 14, Jules Prown writes to Paul Mellon to describe his enthusiasm for picture and also noting the following: “Stylistically, the one weak part of the painting is the naive group of children added later in the upper right distance, the offspring of the union being arranged in the foreground, painted by a later and lesser hand. If we were ever to be fortunate enough to acquire the painting, I think careful consideration should be given to the possibility of recording the group photographically, and then removing it to restore the painting to its original condition. The children presently are an unwelcome and obtrusive compositional element. . . . The Duke will be in Washington in Fall for Chatsworth Drawings exhibition and might be particularly inclined to part with the picture as an appropriate gesture at that time.”

On December 23, Thomas S. Wragg writes to Jules Prown, informing him of the Duke of Devonshire's intention to give the “Yale group to the Mellon Centre.” The picture would be restored either in England or upon arrival in the US, and it would be a personal gift via the trustees. Wragg writes: “[T]he Sum involved is such as to make an application for an export License unnecessary, so there should be no difficulty in getting it out of the country. . . . As far as we are concerned the sooner arrangements can be made for it to leave Chatsworth the better.”

 

1970

On January 5, Jules Prown writes to Thomas S. Wragg: “after the painting is in the hands of a conservationist, we [should] have it photographed by X-ray, infra-red and ultraviolet too [sic] find out as much as we can about the state of the paint surface beneath the addition. Then, if it seems clearly established that there is an original landscape background intact, that the added group be carefully recorded photographically for curatorial and scholarly purposes, and then removed.”

On January 23, Paul Mellon writes to Andrew Cavendish, eleventh Duke of Devonshire, to thank him for the gift of the painting: “It is a very attractive painting, and of course of great historical interest—and how fitting that it should be at Yale.”

On February 24, Andrew Cavendish, eleventh Duke of Devonshire, writes to Paul Mellon (thanking him for his letter): “I fear the Elihu Yale is not worthy of your great collection but it seemed to me that Yale is where it belongs. I shall have no hard feelings if it is stored in an attic or cellar.”

On March 3, Jules Prown writes to Thomas S. Wragg to say the painting is with the conservator Max C. Deliss of 259 King’s Road, London, who recommends relining and suggests this should be done at Tate Gallery due to the size of the picture. If not there, then at the National Gallery. X-ray and infrared are promised; Prown retracts idea of removing children but insists it is “desirable to reduce their prominence, [and] this could be achieved by toning them down a little.”

On June 2, Henry Berg, assistant director of the Yale Center for British Art, writes to Mr. Wiggins of Arnold Wiggins & Sons, Ltd.: “I regret that we were unable to make progress in selection of a frame for the Devonshire painting in [sic] Elihu Yale. I am sure that Mr. [John] Baskett will be communicating further with you about this project.”

On October 19, Max C. Deliss writes to Jules Prown. He explains that the picture was surfaced cleaned and faced with mulberry paper. The portrait was photographed, and the cost of restoration was £1500–2000. A new stretcher was made, and the picture was relined.

 

1971

On January 26, Jules Prown writes to Max C. Deliss and queries why X-ray and infrared photography were not undertaken prior to the treatment of the painting.

 

1972

October 4, John Baskett writes to Jules Prown to say that the frame from Wiggins is finished, and the picture will be transported to New Haven by way of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. The painting remains in storage in New Haven until the opening of the Yale Center for British Art five years later.

Unknown framemaker, Louis XIV frame, first quarter of the eighteenth century, carved wood, later oil gilding over original water gilding and gesso re-cutting, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Andrew Cavendish, eleventh Duke of Devonshire

Unknown framemaker

Louis XIV frame
First quarter of the eighteenth century
Carved wood, later oil gilding over original water gilding and gesso re-cutting
Yale Center for British Art
Gift of Andrew Cavendish, eleventh Duke of Devonshire

1977

The Yale Center for British Art opens in New Haven. At this time, B1970.1 is not included in the display of the Mellon collection and is kept in basement storage.

View of the Entrance Court, Yale Center for British Art, opening banquet and reception, April 1977, photo by William B. Carter, Yale Department of Public Information Courtesy of Institutional Archives, Yale Center for British Art

View of the Entrance Court, Yale Center for British Art

Opening banquet and reception
April 1977
Photo by William B. Carter, Yale Department of Public Information Courtesy of Institutional Archives, Yale Center for British Art

1979

On February 14, Robin Winks, head of Berkeley College, Yale, makes a request to Malcolm Cormack, curator of paintings at the Yale Center for British Art, to hang the picture in the dining hall.

 

1980

B1970.1 is hung in dining hall of Berkeley College, Yale.

 

1981

B1970.1 is included in the exhibition The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis and his Contemporaries at the Yale Center for British Art.

The exhibition is reviewed in the Burlington Magazine by Ronald Parkinson, who writes: “I wonder whether it was deliberate to create such a visual shock at the division of the exhibition, with the gross and nightmarish portrait group of Elihu Yale, the Duke of Devonshire and friends (Cat. No. 45).”

Publication: Ronald Parkinson, “New Haven, Arthur Devis and his contemporaries at the Yale Center for British Art,” Burlington Magazine 123 (1981): 61.

 

1986

The following gallery label is written for B1970.1: “This conversation piece from the early eighteenth century by an unknown artist depicts Elihu Yale (1649–1721) in the center signing a marriage contract marking the union in 1708 of one of his daughters (Anne) with Lord James Cavendish (after 1763–1751), the brother of the second Duke of Devonshire. Yale, a former Governor of Fort St. George in Madras, India, where he went in his youth to work for the East India Company and later amassed a personal fortune and collection of precious objects, is shown seated at a table about to toast the wedding settlement. In 1718–19 at the encouragement of Cotton Mather, he gave his assistance to the struggling 'Connecticote College' as a benefactor, although after his death he bequeathed only a modest sum compared with the vast dowries he gave his daughters. The future groom is represented here on the left and his older brother, the Duke of Devonshire (1672–1729), sits at right with a servant in attendance. Mr. Tunstal, the lawyer who drew up the nuptial contract, stands within this group in the background left. The children in the distance seem to be later additions to the canvas by another artist and may be the children of the Duke. A smaller painting on copper panel by a different hand is at the Yale University Art Gallery, and this larger, nearly life-size, version remained in the Cavendish family for several generations before it was given to the University by the present Duke of Devonshire. A full length of Yale of 1717 also belongs to Yale University.”

 

1992

A stained-glass panel depicting racist imagery is removed from Calhoun College (now Grace Murray Hopper College).

 

1995

On March 3, Yale Daily News publishes a front-page story accompanied by a photograph of the painting Elihu Yale with his Servant (attributed to James Worsdale, oil on canvas, Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes, 1910.1) hanging in the Yale Corporation Room at Woodbridge Hall. University President Richard Levin is quoted in the article: “[I]t’s certainly not consistent with our thinking today. I’ll grant that without any argument.”

James Worsdale, Elihu Yale with his Servant, eighteenth century, oil on canvas, Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes

James Worsdale

Elihu Yale with his Servant
Eighteenth century
Oil on canvas
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes

1998

B1970.1 is removed from the dining hall of Berkeley College and returned to storage at the Yale Center for British Art.

 

2007

On February 7, Yale Daily News records that the painting attributed to James Worsdale, Elihu Yale with his Servant, is removed from the Yale Corporation Room at Woodbridge Hall but illustrates the article with an image of B1970.1.

 

2008

On July 11, old master and British pictures are sold at Christie’s, London, including the remaining portraits of Elihu Yale’s family from Glemham Hall, Suffolk (lots 46–68).

 

2012

Publications: Romita Ray, “Going Global, Staying Local: Elihu Yale the Art Collector,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (Dec. 2012): 34-51; and “Elihu Yale at Yale,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (Dec. 2012): 52–65.

 

2014

The exhibition Figures of Empire: Slavery and Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Britain opens at the Yale Center for British Art. B1970.1 is on view at the museum for the first time since 1981. It is displayed with a new title and label text focusing on the enslaved child depicted in the painting, in following with the theme of the exhibition. An accompanying brochure is also printed for the galleries.

Publication (reproduces a detail of B1970.1): Diana Scarisbrick and Benjamin Zucker, Elihu Yale: Merchant, Collector & Patron (Thames & Hudson, London, 2014).

 

2015

Portraits of Elihu Yale are cited in Dean Jonathon Holloway’s address to the graduating class of 2015. Holloway remarks: “Is it possible to simultaneously hold conflicting feelings about a thing and its history? Can we love Yale College and quarrel with the man who gave this place its name?”

The student activist group “Next Yale” leads a series of protests and publishes a list of demands that include renaming Calhoun College for a person of color and the abolition of the title “master” for heads of residential colleges.

 

2016

On April 28, Yale President Peter Salovey announces the university would preserve John C. Calhoun’s name, saying, “Ours is a nation that often refuses to face its own history of slavery and racism. Yale is part of that history. We cannot erase American history but we can confront it, teach it, and learn from it. The decision to retain Calhoun College’s name reflects the importance of this vital educational imperative.”

The Yale University Art Gallery plans a program around Elihu Yale pictures in the Yale collections, which includes an exhibition, discussion, and the involvement of the contemporary artist Titus Kaphar. The program is postponed indefinitely in light of the political climate on campus.

Publication: Elizabeth Kuebler-Wolf, “Born in America, in Europe bred, in Africa travell’d and in Asia wed: Elihu Yale, material culture, and actor networks from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first,” Journal of Global History (2016).

On June 13, Calhoun College Dining Hall employee Corey Menafee is arrested for breaking stained-glass windows depicting scenes of enslaved workers carrying bales of cotton. He says he was tired of looking at the “racist and very degrading” image and remarks, “It’s 2016, I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that.” (New Haven Independent, July 11, 2016).

Titus Kaphar makes the artwork Enough About You.

Titus Kaphar's Enough About You (2016) installed at the Yale Center for British Art, October 2020, on loan from the Collection of Arthur Lewis and Hau Nguyen, Courtesy of the artist, photo by Richard Caspole

Titus Kaphar

Enough About You
2016
Installed at the Yale Center for British Art, October 2020
On loan from the Collection of Arthur Lewis and Hau Nguyen
Courtesy of the artist,
photo by Richard Caspole

2017

Yale changes Calhoun College’s name to honor the computer scientist and rear admiral Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992).

 

2019

In the Connecticut Post, Stacy Graham-Hunt writes: “[T]he Yale Center for British Art was not, and still is not, a place where many black and Hispanic people feel comfortable.” This prompted renewed discussions within the Yale Center for British Art about how race is represented in the collection and how it is communicated to the public.

 

2020

In mid-June, right-wing media personalities begin protesting the accelerated removal of sculptures and statues of Confederate figures from public spaces. As part of this response, some pundits call for Yale University to denounce and change its name, on account of links between Elihu Yale and slavery. The hashtag #CancelYale goes viral among conservative blogosphere, in turn amplified by left-wing activists. Many social media posts depict or link to B1970.1 as evidence of Elihu Yale’s involvement with slavery.

On June 26, Sean O’Brien argues in the New Haven Independent that Yale should change its name and references B1970.1 as “one of three paintings in Yale University’s collection that depicts a slave attending to Elihu the slavemaster.”

In July, the Wikipedia article about #CancelYale is edited to display B1970.1, incorrectly linking it with the Yale University Art Gallery credit line for Elihu Yale with his Servant and identifying it as the Corporation Room painting removed in 2007. The error is still active on the Wikipedia entry and therefore repeated for any wiki article linked to the picture (e.g., wiki entry for Elihu Yale). Each Wikipedia article may have a differing interpretation of the identity of the persons displayed in the group portrait (see entry for James, Lord Cavendish).

On July 30, Romita Ray, an associate professor of art and music history at Syracuse University, is invited to present a talk on Elihu Yale to the Center’s staff.

In August, the Elihu Yale Portrait Research Team is formed by the Center’s director, Courtney J. Martin.

In September, Courtney J. Martin discusses the Elihu Yale research project and Titus Kaphar’s Enough About You (2016) in an interview with Nancy Kenney: “Director of Yale Center for British Art embraces a global framework,” Art Newspaper (Sept. 10).

In October, B1970.1 is brought to the Center’s painting conservation studio for analysis. Titus Kaphar’s Enough About You is hung in its place in the fourth-floor galleries.

 

2021

In April, the Elihu Yale Portrait Research Team present findings from their work in an Art in Context webinar.

In May, the Elihu Yale Portrait Research Team publishes a timeline and essay on the Center’s website. This project is highlighted in Frieze New York’s Vision & Justice Tribute programming.