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Cecilia Douglas art collection raises a storm

A group of 13 paintings in the collection at Glasgow's prestigious Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was commissioned to wow the 19th century Scottish nouveau riche by depicting Bible stories and ancient history.

Yet the money that paid for the artworks' creation tells a much darker story: one of slavery, empire and decades of economic exploitation.

The paintings, including an Old Master which is currently on public display, have been housed in Kelvingrove since being donated by Cecilia Douglas, a wealthy Glaswegian widow, on her death in 1862.

Calls are being made to rake the paintings off display - but is this a good idea?

Gilbert Douglas, a West India merchant in Glasgow, who had large plantations in the Island of St. Vincent, married, In 1794,  Cecilia Douglas, only surviving daughter of John Douglas, merchant in Glasgow. More about them can be read here:

A news article can be read here:

With commentary here:

One of the paintings, Still-life: Herring, Cherries and Glassware, Willem van Aelst, 1680, can be seen above.  Another, Roman Women Offering Their Jewellery in Defence of the State by Vincenzo Camuccini, can be viewed here:

As Rosemary Goring points out, if we respond to calls to eradicate visible evidence of the benefits of slavery, however distasteful we find that slavery, then we will also be removing evidence of the crimes to humanity that took place.  is that what we want?

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Comment by Russell Lynn Drysdale on March 28, 2015 at 0:54

I don't support slavery    , however  calls to eradicate visible evidence of the benefits of slavery .... those with a belly ache about these paintings needs to set down and read their bible , if you removed every crime against humanity that is in there ,you sure wouldn't have much more than the binding itself.... why stop there ? why not root out this evil at every church, by closing them down ?by the same token ,  Should we not pull every boat out of the water , because at one time slaves were carried on boats ?  The one thing not looked at by most ,is who originally captured Slaves ?  It wasn't the guy that owned the ship or plantation it was     more often times than not those of their own race .... place that burden where it belongs and review things in  perspective . I do know Native Americans have sold Native Americans into slavery as well to the same sugar plantations 

  no one can now in this day and time change how Mrs Douglas got paid then , or what she bought after she got paid . But we can all thank our lucky stars it is not happening today .

Comment by Bob Henry on March 26, 2015 at 20:12

William; I refer to the last para of your posting of March 11, 2013.  I know I'm somewhat late with my twopence worth but only just came across your message on the paintings!

Sorry I'm unable to assist with the Italy query, Natalia, and I agree with your observations.

Comment by William Douglas on March 26, 2015 at 13:02

Bob, are you referring to a recent Rosemary Goring article?

Comment by Bob Henry on March 26, 2015 at 9:58

I agree 100% with the views of Rosemary Goring.  Why sweep it all under the carpet?  Ridiculous!

Comment by Bob Henry on March 24, 2013 at 21:32

Great sleuthing, as usual!  Yes, this identifies John's father for me and just blew a possible lead right out of the water - but that's fine. There has been many blown away over the years!

The Tontine looks to have been an exceptional piece of architecture and a great loss to Glasgow's heritage.  Shame.

Thanks again.

Comment by William Douglas on March 24, 2013 at 18:57

The following is an extract from  The old country houses of the old Glasgow gentry: Garnkirk House:-

The old country houses of the old Glasgow gentry: Garnkirk House

Robert Dunlop had a daughter, Janet, who never married, William, a captain in the army, whose family are settled in Ceylon, and Boyd, who had two daughters, Helen, Mrs. R. A. Morehead, and Catherine of Albyn Place, Edinburgh, and one son, Robert, who went to Australia; (VIII.) Archibald, born 1709, died 1719. (I.) The eldest daughter died an infant; (II.)Elizabeth, born 1692, died an infant; (III.) Jean, born 1693, married Thomas Peter of Crossbasket, and died 1729; (IV.) Katherine, born 1695, married to William Douglas of Leith, she died aged upwards of ninety. They had two sons and one daughter unmarried. Robert, the eldest son, married and had a family; his descendants mostly went abroad. Their second son, John Douglas, became a merchant in Glasgow. He married Cecilia, daughter of George Buchanan, brewer, Bailie 1732 (see Mount Vernon), and had by her seven sons and one daughter, viz.: 1) William; 2) John; 3) Cecilia; 4) Neil (afterwards Sir Neil, G.C.B.); 5) Thomas Dunlop, a well-known citizen of Glasgow, who afterwards bought the estate of Dunlop, and died in 1869 aged 94; 6) Archibald; 7) James; 8) Colin. (V.) Lillias, born 1696, died unmarried; (VI.) Elizabeth, born 1698, married to Robert Rae of Tannochside.

I think this answers one of your questions?

Half of a £50 share need not be £25 as the value of that share could rise or fall. It was a sizeable property in 1829:  see this article.

Comment by Bob Henry on March 24, 2013 at 18:05

Yes, thanks William, this is the page I was looking for.

Having very carefully re-checked the somewhat difficult to read spelling of "Cecilia" in Sir William's will, I am in no doubt that it reads "Cecilia" and not "Cecelia" as I stated in my comment of Sept., 8, 2011. I recall at the time, you rightly commented on the difference in the spelling of her name.

What I now wonder is, could this be the same Cecilia in your posting of March 11, 2013?  Also, is it possible to find out who the farther was of "John, merchant in Glasgow" ?  I do realize the the latter is probably too much to ask for, given the time scale!

Comment by William Douglas on March 23, 2013 at 23:18
Comment by Bob Henry on March 23, 2013 at 22:05

Thanks for this, William.  Darned if I can find my previous postings on Sir William Douglas and the share of the Tontine Tavern he left to Cecilia but on reading his will again, it goes like this. "Item to Miss Cecilia Douglas, daughter of Mr John Douglas, Merchant in Glasgow, the half of fifty pound share of the Tontine Tavern or Coffee House in Glasgow belonging to me and at present standing in her name". 

While her father John is not mentioned as kin to Sir William, do you not think that this is the same Cecilia?  I dont know how the shares mentioned equate to half of £50 pounds but perhaps you may know?


Comment by William Douglas on March 21, 2013 at 22:02

OK I have just followed up the Slavery database again and found this: 

  1. Cecilia Douglas, only surviving daughter of John Douglas, merchant in Glasgow, and sister of General Sir Neil Douglas and of 6 other brothers, members of the once well known firm of John Thomas and Archibald Douglas, the last survivor of whom was the late Thomas Dunlop Douglas of Dunlop. Married Gilbert Douglas 1794: widowed 1807. The Orbiston estate was the creation of Cecilia Douglas from the estates she inherited of Douglas Park and Boggs, to which she added by purchase. She survived her husband 55 years, and died at Douglas Park, or Orbiston house as she latterly called it, in July 1862 aged 91. She was the last survivor of the original nominees on the Tontine buildings at the Cross. Mrs Douglas left a large fortune, and a fine collection of paintings and sculptures, which she made during her extended residence in Italy and which was presented to the Corporation of Glasgow (who deposited them in their Galleries in Sauciehall Street) in accordance with her direction to deposit it 'in some public institution in Scotland'.  She also gave large window to the Cathedral in Glasgow.

  2. There is a memorial plaque on the wall of St Brides Collegiate Church, Bothwell, Lanarkshire to the memory of Gilbert Douglas of Douglas Park born 28/05/1749 died 10/03/1807 (possibly an error for 10/03/1810) and also of Cecilia Douglas of Orbiston his wife born 28/02/1772 died 25/07/1862. The Mount Pleasant estate belonged to Gilbert Douglas, together with a cotton plantation Fairfield in Demerara (of which there is no trace in the compensation records).

and here: for Cecilia's brother, james

her brother John (who had a daughter Cecilia):

Making conections

The more information you can give about the people you mention, the more chance there is of someone else connecting with your family.

Dates and places of births, deaths and marriages all help to place families.

Professions also help.

'My great-grandmother mother was a Douglas from Montrose' does not give many clues to follow up! But a bit of flesh on the bones makes further research possible. But if we are told who she married, what his profession was and where the children were baptised, then we can get to work.

Maybe it is time to update the information in your profile?

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