The Great British Art Tour: Uncle Tom’s Cabin wallpaper in Manchester’s Whitworth


Two white males in a plantation home negotiate the sale of a small boy as his mom overhears; later she flees with him throughout an icy river. These are the primary two of six vignettes on a wallpaper impressed by the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The full sequence concentrates on Eliza and Harry’s escape from the slave proprietor, alongside Tom’s sale and eventual homicide.

The American creator Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the ebook in 1851 to help the abolition of slavery in the southern states of America. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a worldwide bestseller – by the top of its first 12 months in print it had bought greater than 300,000 copies in the US and one other million in Great Britain; it was to grow to be the century’s second-bestselling ebook, second solely to the Bible. The stereotype of Uncle Tom – a badge of advantage and longsuffering endurance – went on to be additional exaggerated in limitless novelty gadgets, performances, video games, tales and, certainly, a wallpaper.

This roll was acquired by the Whitworth from a descendant of Edna Greenwood, a lifelong collector of American folks artwork. It is, in reality, each Americana and a Mancunian factor: the wallpaper was made by the agency Heywood, Higginbottom, Smith and Company and printed in Manchester, not removed from the place the Whitworth stands as we speak. This is a metropolis industrialised via transatlantic slavery, and abolition was fiercely debated right here for many years.

“Pulps” like this wallpaper have been printed cheaply and rapidly on uncoated paper, meant for show and dialogue in inns or golf equipment. They have been a type of social media. (This design continues to be pasted on the wall of a historic home in Australia, testomony to the attain of the story, the British empire and its markets.) It is loosely drawn and crudely printed, saving it considerably from the racism of extra deliberate illustrations of the story by caricaturists reminiscent of George Cruikshank. Yet this crudity renders Eliza and Harry black in one scene and white in one other. However a lot we would battle with it, it is a useful reminder that abolitionism has an extended historical past of errors but in addition of world attain.

You can see extra artwork from the Whitworth on Art UK here, and discover out extra on the gallery’s website.

This sequence is dropped at you in collaboration with Art UK, which brings the nation’s artwork collectively on one digital platform and tells the tales behind the artwork. The web site exhibits works by 50,000 artists from greater than 3,000 venues together with museums, universities and hospitals in addition to 1000’s of public sculptures. Discover the artwork you personal here.


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